Chick-Fil-A and the Politics of Intolerance

Dan Cathy


Can political representatives use their offices to retaliate against business executives who hold and express opinions that the politicians find unacceptable? As an advocate of tolerance, diversity of thought, and freedom of speech, I would have to say no. If individual consumers don’t want to shop somewhere because they don’t like the views of a company leader, I’d say those consumers can spend their money however they choose. As far as I’m concerned, they can avoid a business because they object to the color of the CEO’s suspenders or the fit of his toupee. It’s their money and they can spend it or not spend it as they see best. But I disagree with the practice of organizing economic boycotts to try to force people to change their opinions, since that is simply engaging in the politics of mass bullying. The intolerance moves from bullying to outright tyranny, though, whenever a government authority uses the power of office to push a boycott.

Dan Cathy, the CEO of fast food company Chick-Fil-A, has voiced his belief in what he calls “the biblical definition of a family unit.” According to this definition, a family consists of a monogamous union of a man and woman, plus children. Cathy, as one would expect, does not support same-sex marriage. Many Americans share his perspective on family. But, apparently, many of those with different ideas don’t just think he’s wrong. They think that he has no right to an opinion that differs from theirs and they want to use economic and political coercion to make him change that opinion.

The company is not trying to force anyone to see things they way Dan Cathy does. In fact, the company has stated that it will “treat every person with dignity, honor, and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation, or gender. We will continue this tradition in the over 1,600 restaurants run by independent Owner/Operators. Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”

Unfortunately, many in the government and political arena don’t seem willing to treat the company in the same manner. Edwin Lee, the Mayor of San Francisco, is reported to have said in a tweet, “Closest #ChickFIlA to San Francisco is 40 miles away & I strongly recommend that they not try to come any closer.”  Even worse, Boston’s mayor wrote the company a letter saying he’d block it from his city, only to acknowledge later that this would be illegal. A Chicago alderman said that he would keep the company from getting permits to build in the city. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is trying to get Chick-Fil-A kicked out of New York, and has written the President of NYU asking him to expel the restaurant from its campus.  Quinn has started a petition demanding that Cathy change his views and apologize.

The Moral Liberal Sociology Editor, Carl L. Bankston III is Professor of Sociology at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. He is the author and co-author of a number of books and numerous articles published in academic journals. An incomplete list of his books includes: Growing Up American: How Vietnamese Children Adapt to Life in the United States (with Min Zhou, 1998), Blue Collar Bayou: Louisiana Cajuns in the New Economy of Ethnicity (with Jacques Henry, 2002), and A Troubled Dream: The Promise and Failure of School Desegregation in Louisiana (2002), Forced to Fail: The Paradox of School Desegregation (hardback, 2005; paperback, 2007), and Public Education – America’s Civil Religion: A Social History (2009) (all with Stephen J. Caldas). View Professor Carl L. Bankston’s Page here. He blogs at Can These Bones Live?

Copyright © 2012 Carl L. Bankston III.