Chick-Fil-A – Why Anyone Cares

There’s been crazy tumult over Chick-Fil-A’s recent assertion that their COO Dan Cathy basically abhors marriage equality because they believe that the Christian God doesn’t like it.  Many people, including myself find the statement itself insulting.  But I feel insulted on a regular basis by all kinds of different people and you know what?  I seem to make it through my day.  Why is this different?

The left is genuinely concerned that a very popular company feels comfortable showing what is, in their eyes (and mine), outright bigotry.  However, it is not just the attitudes of bigotry that are offensive but the actions that result.  Now Chick-Fil-A seems relatively blameless in showing bigotry in the day-to-day operations of their stores.  They don’t seem to refuse to hire or serve members of the LGBTQ community.  (Maybe.)  That’s good!  But they do give money to Exodus International and the Family Research Council.  I think we all know about Exodus’s abusive practices in “reparative therapy” and the FRC has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  The amounts are small, about a thousand dollars each, but still important.  When a company materially supports groups that aim to restrict the civil rights of a marginalized group we need to move from simple distaste to action.

I think the argument that you will hear from the right is that opponents of Chick-Fil-A’s views aren’t just disagreeing with ideas but attempting to disrupt their business.  The mayors who have implied that they will work to keep Chick-Fil-A out of their cities are clearly wrong.  Would suppressing differing views even be in there city’s overall interest?  I doubt it, and even if it were they lack the executive power to do anything about it.  Boston Mayor Thomas Menino may be perfectly right in asserting that Chick-Fil-A’s values clearly clash with the state of Massachusetts but he cannot deny regular privileges of citizens to citizens and their businesses because of it.

At best these politicians were making a statement that followed their own consciences and that of their constituents and at worst pulling a stunt.  It was, even though I agree with them in principle, an error to do so.  Sure, they are a wonderful representation of how far marriage equality has come that important politicians feel able and called to defend it.  Did these letters produce any changes in attitude?  Did they actually make their own cities or any other cities a more tolerable place for advocates of marriage equality?  Doubtful.

What we need is a way to meet both sides in a way that is fruitful to tolerance.  I suggest making clear that a boycott aims to change, in clear ways, the material harm done to the LGBTQ community and to marriage equality.  The left must be able to tolerate differing opinions in the same way we require the right to respect ours.  Chick-Fil-A representatives can believe, can personally support, and can vote in any way they wish but donations from the company itself cannot be used to suppress a minority group.

Or you can just opt out of the whole system by eating healthy non-fast-foods.  Probably the best option all around.

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4 Responses to Chick-Fil-A – Why Anyone Cares

  1. h2466trainmaster says:

    To begin with, I think Chick-fil-A has given considerably more money to anti-gay causes than you suggest, but I’m not sure the amount is that important. (The number I have seen repeatedly is $5 million.) The company has the right to make such donations, and customers have the right to show their approval or disapproval.

    Traditionally, economists have seen it as positive when personal views are excluded from the marketplace, which then can operate on supply and demand, undistorted by “extraneous” factors such as religion, ethnicity, and the like. When organizations take a public position on controversial topics, they take their chances with the resulting approval or backlash. They may do so for philosophical reasons and/or marketing reasons. In the case of Chick-fil-A, I suspect that both philosophy and marketing underlie Cathy’s recent announcement. Chick-fil-A has already established itself as a “Christian” business, and the anti-gay position plays to the prejudices of its evangelical Christian clientele.

    I like Chick-fil-A’s food, I find its employees unusually friendly, and I admire its family-friendly promotions. I’m not so keen on the contemporary Christian music diners have to endure. I don’t think I’ll visit Chick-fil-A ever again, however. I am not alone.

  2. When I looked at the amounts they had given I had mostly taken into account the gifts to the most egregious of the organizations. I figured their are three tiers of organizations they give to, the first being generally good, if fairly conservative, organizations that simply serve needy populations and that certainly is good. The next kind are the groups that don’t help anyone but move an agenda that is distinctly anti-LGBTQ this is bad and a reason in and of itself to avoid Chick-fil-A. That’s the five million part I believe. But it was the donations to truly horrible groups like Exodus International and Family Research Council are truly offensive. I mean it doesn’t mean much for me to wade into a debate over chicken sandwiches when I’m a vegetarian but when someone who says “I’m a Christian and a respectable businessman” and supports hate groups it gets my goat pretty seriously.

  3. Dan says:

    there is a long tradition of recognising the connection between integration between economics, politics, money and power in this country, and in using boycott as a means of making one’s political voice heard through the application of economic power. i completely agree with the boycott if the purpose of the boycott is explicated clearly and concisely: that spending money at Chick-fil-a aids Dan Cathy in using his significant economic power to fund hate groups. take $ out of his pocket, and you can blunt not only his power, but that of the hate groups as well. the issue of funding hate groups is the easiest issue to rally support behind due to the same reason why it was easy to hamper the business of woolworth lunch counters: take away their business, and they will start to re-evaluate their policy of segregation. in the end, a business exists to make money. that is the CORE purpose of business. demonstrate to a business that they will make more money (or, in the case of a boycott, will make any money) supporting a change in political policy and cultural norms, and often the business will change.

    yet, it doesn’t help when your allies blunt your razor-sharp argument in their attempt to aid the cause. i agree that the mayors of san fran, boston, and chicago made the wrong move, but not because it was wrong per se; it was the wrong move b/c it actually ended up aiding the cause of anti-gay equality by allowing people to reduce the entire controversy to a free speech issue, something that is enshrined as the PRE-EMINENT value that defines ‘America’. they allowed people to shop at chick-fil-a with a clear conscience, b/c now Cathy’s free speech rights were being infringed, and people could even begin to feel SORRY for him. bad move.

    • I hadn’t thought of the positive effect the mayors action would have on Chik-fil-A. That’s a very good point. I wonder how much this whole debacle has helped them? I imagine the last couple weeks has been pretty good business. What does that say about our ability to effect change through business pressures?

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