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James Peron Headshot

Shut Down Chick-fil-A Properly

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I am about as opposed to buying food from Chick-fil-A as one can get. It is proper to boycott them. A portion of their profits have been regularly used by the owners to subsidize some of the most vicious, extreme religious groups in this country. Buying chicken at this establishment helps fund hate. I won't do it.

I want to emphasize that latter point: this is hate. Fundamentalists, entirely on the basis of their own idiosyncratic interpretation of old manuscripts, are obsessed with denying equality of rights to the LGBT community.

Disliking broccoli is an opinion. Even disliking gay people is an opinion -- albeit a stupid one. However, the moment individuals demand that the rights of others be violated it becomes full-fledged hate. Of course, they claim they "love," but how does their love differ, in results, from that of the people who are clear and open haters?

Consider the debate in the Big Spring School District in Newville, PA., where students have requested to form a Gay-Straight Alliance. Fundamentalist neanderthals scurried out from revival tents to weep and holler hysterically about the "demoralization of America."

They demanded the school board intervene and deny to the club any right to exist. This from a high school with two Christian-oriented clubs! These hysterics don't have a legal leg to stand on, since courts have rightly ruled that if a school district allows extra-curricular clubs to meet on campus it may not hand out such rights selectively, based on content or opinions.

This is typical of Christian fundamentalists, who regularly demand: "Freedom for me, but not for thee."

A gay-straight alliance has as much legal standing as a chess club or Bible study. Legal rights should not hinge on beliefs.

Recently, Right-wing groups falsely presented the case of a "home Bible study" which they said was being prosecuted by the city of Phoenix.

Most of the claims were false. The "home Bible study" was actually a full-fledged church. The pastor built an entire church building in his back yard, lying to the city by telling them he was seeking a permit for a family game room.

The church is on a residential street with one lane of traffic in each direction and no on-street parking. The property has houses on each side of it. The city wouldn't allow a tavern, grocery store, or community center to be located there.

The church wasn't being persecuted because it was a church, but because that use of the land conflicted with the residential nature of the area and threatened free access to roads due to unusually heavy traffic. Like zonings laws or not, the regulation was not selectively enforced based on content.

This is what bothers me about some actions being taken against Chick-fil-A. Boycott the hell out of them; even drive them into liquidation by popular refusal to support the company, if you wish, but when the law is used selectively to punish a business because of the owner's opinions and donations, then the law is overstepping its bounds.

If anything, the moral case against Chick-fil-A is tainted by such actions. The Big Springs School District should not use regulatory powers to deny a club's right to exist due to the opinions of its members. Neither should local cities deny permits solely on the basis of the opinions of a business owner.

In Chicago, Alderman Joe Moreno wants the city to deny a permit to build a Chick-fil-A restaurant in his district, because of "bigoted, homophobic comments" by the owner of the chain. Moreno is quite clear: "Because of this man's ignorance, I will now be denying Chick-fil-A's permit to open a restaurant in the 1st Ward."

Of course, I happen to think Moreno's opinion about the owner is correct. I also think that the owner is immoral, but, the Christians in Pennsylvania think Christianity is correct and that LGBT people are immoral.

However, the state is not there to arbitrate opinions, but to protect rights -- even rights of people we dislike.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel claims the restaurant would "be a bad investment, since it would be empty." Great, isn't that precisely what would do the most harm -- allow them to pour capital into a restaurant where no one will eat? It is not Mayor Emanuel's job to decide what investments are wise or not. It's not his land; it's not his capital.

Similarly, Boston's Mayor Thomas Menino, has threatened to use zoning to keep the restaurant chain out of Boston.

When government power is used to punish speech, and speech alone, as is the case here, there are grave First Amendment concerns. It is wrong when zoning is used to regulate adult bookstores and wrong when zoning is used to deny permits, solely because an owner has wrong-headed and stupid opinions.

Chick-fil-A owner Don Cathy may deny me equality of rights, but I cannot lower myself to his level and deny him equality of rights. He has the right to ignorant opinions, and the right to run restaurants.

What he doesn't have a right to, is customers or profits. It is appropriate to deny both through a boycott.

If politicians who claim to be friends of the LGBT community want to really put it on the line, they should help organize a picket line and be seen there as often as possible. Use the legitimate power of boycotts instead of state power. To trample on the rights of anyone, even if he is an intellectual caveman, is wrong.

The First Amendment makes it clear that Cathy has a right to his opinions and to speak them, and the law shouldn't be used to punish him directly, or indirectly, for doing so. It also makes clear that we have the right to peacefully assembly and picket or boycott his stores. And it also separates church and state and makes clear that religious values should not be used to deny equality of rights to gay people.

Emulating the tactics and logic of the fundamentalist Right is not the way to win freedom for our community. It is a way to lose freedom, by creating a political machine with power to punish unpopular opinions. It is wrong to do that in Newville PA, and wrong to do it in Chicago. The problem with such political machines is that the tide of politics can turn, and the powers we create to punish those we dislike, can be used against us, just as easily.

H.L. Mencken wisely noted: "The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all."

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