NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- Political leaders in Boston and Chicago are backing off statements they had made opposing the opening of new Chick-fil-A restaurants in their cities, while a growing number of the restaurant's supporters -- more than 325,000 so far -- are pledging to take part in Wednesday's Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel had made statements implying they would attempt to block new Chick-fil-A restaurants from opening in their cities, but they reversed positions Thursday (July 26) when attorneys from across the spectrum -- including the left-leaning ACLU, the right-leaning Alliance Defending Freedom and the Boston and Chicago newspapers -- said such actions would be unconstitutional.
"I can't do that. That would be interference to [Chick-fil-A's] rights to go there," Menino said, according to the Boston Herald.
At issue are statements Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy made supporting the biblical definition of marriage. Baptist Press re-posted
a feature story on Cathy. Some people, including Menino and Emanuel, had viewed Cathy's beliefs as anti-gay marriage.
Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno also seemed to backtrack from previous comments, telling CNN that if Cathy's beliefs don't transfer into discriminatory hiring and serving practices, he has less of a problem. Chick-fil-A has said it does not discriminate, and in fact, the owner of a Chicago Chick-fil-A said her store has had gay employees.
The national debate over the restaurant has little to do with chicken sandwiches and nearly everything to do with a discussion on free speech and religious liberty. From a Christian perspective, the question being debated is: Can the government block a business from opening whose owners hold to traditional beliefs?
Sign-ups for Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day -- launched on Facebook by radio host and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee -- surged past 300,000 Friday afternoon, having gained about 100,000 supporters each day on Thursday and Friday alone. (More information is available at www.ISupportChickFilA.com
Moreno, the alderman, toned down his remarks Friday, just days earlier having called Cathy's comments "bigoted" and "homophobic" and adding, "Because of this man's ignorance, I will now be denying Chick-fil-A's permit to open a restaurant in the 1st Ward."
Moreno, though, sounded a different tune to CNN.
"I am not denying a permit," Moreno said. "I don't have the right as an alderman to deny or accept a permit. We're looking at approving legislation for their traffic control and their business practices. There is not a permit being denied. ... My point was that beliefs have consequences. If those beliefs turn into actions, and actions into discriminatory policy -- or the lack of protections for LGBTQ people -- that's the issue.
CNN host Christine Romans then asked, "If Chick-fil-A is not doing anything discriminatory in its hiring or its serving, then you're not going to let the opinion of the president stop you from creating jobs in your district?"
Moreno responded, "Eight or nine months I've been working on this without any public exposure from me or from the LGBTQ group or from Chick-fil-A. We've been working on this. [Local owners have] already said to me, and I hope they put in writing, that ... they will no longer donate dollars to any organization -- left, right or center -- that has a political agenda. That is one thing we were working on."
Romans interjected, "Are you going to demand that from all companies that do business? Because a lot of companies" donate to political causes. "If you're going to make everybody be apolitical ..."
Moreno responded, "Let's be very clear. ... I did not demand that of them. They offered that. They can believe what they want to believe. That's not the argument."
Several Southern Baptist leaders have spoken out in support of Chick-fil-A. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas plans on purchasing more than 200 sandwiches Wednesday for its community. In Wake Forest, N.C., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin said Friday he and his wife plan on visiting the restaurant Wednesday, and he urged others to do the same.
"This entire situation is a sad commentary on the moral slide of our nation and the 'bully politics' that too often rears its ugly head," Akin wrote at BetweentheTimes.com. "It is one thing to be a hatemonger and seek the hurt of another. It is something altogether different to take a gracious stand, rooted in biblical conviction, that only wants the best for another, and be labeled as intolerant and a bigot. The intolerance of those screaming for tolerance has become deafening. It is also, in many instances, dishonest.
Akin added, "These are interesting times. We must ask God to grant us wisdom, grace, conviction and steadfastness. As Ephesians 4:15 admonishes us, we must 'speak the truth in love.' So, letís speak. Letís speak the truth. And, letís make sure we always do so in love. The gospel demands it. Jesus expects it. The world needs it."
Traditionalists continue to argue there is a double standard on the issue, with little to no controversy surrounding companies or company leaders who support gay marriage. On Friday, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife donated $2.5 million to a Washington state campaign to defend a gay marriage law in the state.
Huckabee has said Chick-fil-A deserves support.
"Let's affirm a business that operates on Christian principles and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse by simply showing up and eating at Chick-Fil-A on Wednesday, August 1," he wrote on Facebook. "Too often, those on the left make corporate statements to show support for same sex marriage, abortion, or profanity, but if Christians affirm traditional values, we're considered homophobic, fundamentalists, hate-mongers, and intolerant. This effort is not being launched by the Chick-fil-A company and no one from the company or family is involved in proposing or promoting it."
"There's no need for anyone to be angry or engage in a verbal battle," Huckabee added. "Simply affirm appreciation for a company run by Christian principles by showing up on Wednesday, August 1 or by participating online -- tweeting your support or sending a message on Facebook."
Meanwhile, Chick-fil-A corporate employees are mourning the death of spokesman Don Perry, who died of a heart attack Friday morning (July 27). Perry was vice president of public relations.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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