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July 25, 2012

The Chick-fil-A Gay Marriage Controversy

We haven't covered the Chick-fil-A controversy here and I wasn't planning to. The company supports social policies supported by about half the country; the loudest voices on the other half are acting like monkeys flinging poo over it. It was a stupid story full to the gills of stupid people saying stupid things.

But this has gotten way out of hand. The mayor of Boston is telling Chick-fil-A to stay out of his city. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel today supported the decision of an alderman to block a building permit for a new Chick-fil-A restaurant.

That is wrong. Denying a business a building permit over its owners' political views is a blatant violation of the First Amendment.

Even when it comes to government contracting — where the government is choosing how to spend government money — the government generally may not discriminate based on the contractor’s speech, see Board of County Commissioners v. Umbehr (1996). It is even clearer that the government may not make decisions about how people will be allowed to use their own property based on the speaker’s past speech.

And this is so even if there is no statutory right to a particular kind of building permit (and I don’t know what the rule is under Illinois law). Even if the government may deny permits to people based on various reasons, it may not deny permits to people based on their exercise of his First Amendment rights. It doesn’t matter if the applicant expresses speech that doesn’t share the government officials’ values, or even the values of the majority of local citizens. It doesn’t matter if the applicant’s speech is seen as “disrespect[ful]” of certain groups. The First Amendment generally protects people’s rights to express such views without worrying that the government will deny them business permits as a result. That’s basic First Amendment law — but Alderman Moreno, Mayor Menino, and, apparently, Mayor Emanuel (if his statement is quoted in context), seem to either not know or not care about the law.

I don't eat at Chick-fil-A and I encourage others not to eat at Chick-fil-A.* What I don't do is deny Chick-fil-A's right to do business with other folks. If these mayors had their way, they'd go so far as to deny Chick-fil-A's right to exist. That's oppression. That's wrong, and we should say so.

*I didn't have to think about it when I lived in L.A. because there was no Chick-fil-A nearby. I was aware of the company's charitable giving to activist groups opposed to gay marriage. So when I moved to D.C. near a Chick-fil-A, I decided not to eat there since I don't want to help fund such groups.


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posted by Gabriel Malor at 07:42 PM

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