Chick-Fil-A and the First Amendment

The following is an argument I was having on Facebook. I have always kept my personal and online political profiles quite separate, and for this reason I have stripped out personal info and the identities of the other individuals in the debate to protect their own privacy. But I thought I laid out a pretty good argument on 1st Amendment grounds, and rather than rehash the whole thing I thought I would present it in the form it appeared.

Flynn:I usually leave politics off of FB- But I supported Chick Fil A yesterday. Because of one stand or another? No. Because the mayor and councilman on Chicago stated that they will not allow a business with -whatever- stand they don't agree with exist in Chicago. If you think I took this stand because of hatred toward gays, you don't know me very well. At all.


Facebook Friend A: [Flynn], I admire and share your strong support of free expression, and you'll be glad to know it's alive and well here in Chicago. I can actually see an enormous Chick-Fil-A from my apartment. The mayor didn't say the city won't allow the restaurant to exist in Chicago. The alderman is seeking to block the zoning permit, but he's doing so just as fairly and legally as Dan Cathy is being an obnoxious bigot. I agree a CEO's personal beliefs and speech, no matter how disgusting, aren't cause to prohibit his or her company from conducting business. But that company's owner gleefully admits he's "guilty as charged" of donating millions to anti-gay groups — Chick-Fil-A donated $2 million in 2010 alone. If your vote of support took the form of patronage, you just contributed a little bit, too.

Chick-Fil-A also discriminates against homosexuals in their hiring practices just barely within the limits of the law. It's a lot sneakier than the way Alderman Moreno is fighting the restaurant in his ward. So for you to imply you're taking a stand for the constitution by supporting Chick-Fil-A and that anyone who thinks you hate gays doesn't know you rings slightly hollow to me. Follow the money. Defending free speech is critical, sure, but always be mindful of the cost. In this case, it's funding multiple discriminatory organizations. I suggest there are more meaningful and less dubious ways to defend our constitution.

Flynn: Hi [FB Friend A], I appreciate your stance- I really do, but I also operate under the premise that money (ie, donations to various causes) falls under the rubric of speech and expression. So, (just taking a possibly ham-handed parsing of your argument here) that it's OK to have an opinion or speak out for one cause or another (as in the case of Mr. Cathy), but it's not OK to make financial contributions to those same causes? Vocal support is OK but material support is not? Are not these groups in existence legal? If I were the head of a zoning board, should I be allowed to ban Trader Joe's because of CEO or corporate contributions to ELF, BGLAD or the Communist Party USA?

Under this same logic there is more powerful reason to get rid of labor unions, most "think tanks" (Tides Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Ford; many, many others who themselves contribute to far-left causes that many Americans object to as well as decent work, but are often recipients of corporate grants) and many other entities. So to say that the Alderman is blocking the zoning permit "fairly and legally as Dan Cathy is being a bigot" is not based in law but is based on the Alderman's views of Cathy's positions.

Now I know that we were never "close" particularly when I was in [redacted], but your thinking my statement "rings hollow" when I say I did not take this stand with any hatred toward gays, then you are making a serious misjudgment as to my thinking and feelings alike. There is a widespread fallacy among many that if I have an opinion that even tangentially relates to gays that is not held by Liberal orthodoxy, then it automatically follows that "I Must Hate Gays." Step back a bit and examine the logic of that position. It's the same as disagreement with the President on policy issues, so therefore it 'must logically follow" that I'm a racist. It's wrong on it's face- yet I've also been accused of racism of the worst type as well, so this is nothing new to me.

Facebook Friend A: Yikes. Ham-handed, indeed. Neither of those interpretations is what I was trying to say, least of all that you are somehow a bigot yourself.

Facebook Friend B: I think freedom of expression should end at hate and I support the Boston, Chicago and other mayors. Why the US considers businesses 'people' is so far beyond my comphrehension I'm prouder and more relieved than ever to live in Canada.

Flynn: But [FB Friend B]- Who decides what's hate and what's not? Politically inconvenient (for whoever is in charge) can label 'hate' to apply to almost anything; the inherent danger is that all speech has a chance of being restricted under this onus.

Facebook Friend B: I think what I'm trying to say is that if you can't be upset that Chick Fil A can politicize themselves as a company, you can't be upset that mayors can politicize a business decision about them. If Chick Fil A came out against a race, say black or asian Americans, would you still support them as a business? What if they were pro-holocaust? I see no difference in what they are saying.

Flynn: the difference is that it's one thing for a private individual company or entity to have opinions of whatever variety. If someone doesn't like their stance, then they are perfectly at their liberty to not engage in their services or purchase their products. Disagreeing with someone else's speech is as much a 1st Amendment issue as the original person's opinion that inflamed them.

However: government officials with the power of regulation and under the color of authority cannot engage in this sort of behavior as there is only One government, and it's meant to be a government for us all and not a few groups who happen to be "in favor" with one political faction at a given point. That is why there are very particular equal protection clauses in the US Constitution and restrictions on what are called Bills of Attainder- laws that pertain to an individual or small groups or classes of people (ie, on one end, making a law that increases or decreases tax burden on an individual; or on the other extreme end of the spectrum, Nazi Germany's laws mandating Jews wear Stars of David on their clothes, restricting them to ghettos or eventually on to the death camps). Laws and regulations must apply to everyone or they are worthless.

Now, US History has a way of cycling through party affiliations of heads of government. This term, it's Democratic, next- ...? Probably Republican, although it's yet to be seen. But undoubtedly at -some- point it will change again. Chicago in particular has been quite a bit more left-leaning, but it bears comparing the other hand. What if a Chicago Alderman (Republican) banned a Starbucks because it contributes greatly to left-leaning causes? The Left [would] go insane, and they would have a right to. We're simply demanding equal protection under a uniformly applied law and Constitutional requirement.

Facebook Friend B: Sorry, I think I don't think of gay rights as a "political faction". I think of it as human rights. Period.

What I don't think you're picking up on is that my take has nothing, -zero- to do with gays and marriage, civil unions, or whatever. It has everything to to do with having a dissenting opinion and still being allowed to participate in owning a business, having a job, participating in the economy and treated fairly by government.

There is an old saw, "I may disagree with what you say, but I will fight to the death your right to say it." I take this extremely seriously and a venerable philosophy for the extension of debate and freedom.

I would be just as upset at a republican banning a business for liberal cause support as the current situation. But perhaps there are those that are unable to separate their own beliefs for respect of other's liberties.

But I am not that person.

Apparently if you have a deep personal belief that being gays being unable to marry (again, or any other stance- I really don't have an opinion on gay marriage. But that's never been my point) does that mean you shouldn't be allowed to have a business? If an individual, a consumer, believes the same, should they then be not allowed to engage in the purchase of products and services? "I'm sorry sir. You're a hater. You are not allowed to buy groceries." Or, "I'm sorry Sir, you gave to [some group out of favor to the current ruling party]. We cannot give you a driver's license." Were is the line? Regulating people's beliefs by government is the worst tyranny imaginable.

Facebook Friend B: You say CFA has a right to do a job, yet they denying gays the right to have a job with them. Doesn't that strike you as hypocrisy?

Facebook Friend B: I agree with you about government not regulating beliefs. Again, I do not think this is a belief or a choice. These are human beings, plain and simple. This is not an opinion, this is a fact. It is 2012. At what point do we wake up and realize this is just as heinous as when we thought segregation for race was acceptable?

Flynn: My entire argument is not on who sleeps with who. I don't care one whit about what some third person finds attractive in a mate/spouse/friend with benefits/whatever. It doesn't involve me. This my libertarian streak coming out.

But the government cannot be the arbiter of people's beliefs. Now, as for Chick Fil A's hiring policies, if there is something amiss there, then there will (and should) be a lawsuit as sexual orientation is a protected classification in this country.

As such, I cannot find a single instance of an unsuccessful Chick-Fil-A applicant suing for sexual preference discrimination. There have only been 12 incidents of "discrimination" under the general umbrella term, for religion and gender bias, but sexuality wasn't one of them. And most of the suits were unsuccessful (see Forbes link here et al). CFA had 1,365 stores with an average employee count of 50 apiece. 68,250 employees is a hell of a lot, and if the general population has an 8% gay contingent (number retrieved from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, via Gallup: link) then 5,460 gay [potential employees / employees subsequently discriminated against] would be one hell of a lot higher if the company actually had an anti-gay policy in place.

The narrative doesn't work that Chick-Fil-A is some evil, nasty, homo-hating place. Hardcore Christian Evangelist, to be sure, but not bigoted by policy.