Recently, after a call for support in the name of free speech and traditional marriage by conservative Fox News pundit Mike Huckabee, many Americans made it a point to eat at Chick-fil-A restaurants across the nation.
Huckabee's appeal to action -- a "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" -- followed by about a million on Facebook and Twitter, was in response to a call for the boycott of the fast food chain by gay rights activists (which I joined) after its president, Dan Cathy, was recently quoted in the Baptist Times as pleading "guilty as charged" for believing that gay marriage is wrong and by having his company give millions to anti-gay advocacy groups.
Boycotting is supposed to be a private matter of ostracizing a person or group. Normally, participating in a boycott is a decision by an individual to join others in a protest movement to abstain from patronizing or supporting another person, group or business.
But we live in an age of hyperbolic political discourse that has legitimized extremism in our political dialogue, and the Chick-fil-A issue is a perfect example of how a rightful call for a boycott against bigotry -- and a reasonable response by opponents -- has been sullied by fanatical, headline-grabbing elected officials and pundits on both sides.
Here's how the fanatics changed the debate: First, instead of just giving their personal endorsement or donating money to the cause against Chick-fil-A, a number of "progressive" U.S. mayors went one portentous step further by warning the extremely successful Chick-fil-A chain, which has more than 1,608 independently owned restaurants nationwide and more than $4 billion in sales, to not even think about selling chicken in "their" cities.
This included the zealous, left-wing mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, the same guy who emulated the Godfather by sending a dead fish to an opponent and has no problem openly working with the bigoted, anti-Semitic Louis Farrakhan on local city issues.
Emanuel and the other mayors abused their positions of power by wrongfully rendering the pure force of government regulation and power to bolster their opposition to Cathy and Chick-fil-A in the same-sex marriage debate.
Now, instead of a personalized boycott against a company supporting bigoted, anti-gay groups, the debate was framed in reverse: Huckabee and others legitimately questioned whether Cathy's right of free speech and the company's right to do business, as well as the constitutional rights of all Christians taking a stand against gay marriage, was negated by the mayors' threats to thwart lawful expansion of the chain into their cities.
Remember, there was no violation of civil rights laws, no threats or calls for violence against gay people, and no outright bigoted statements being made. It was rather a plea of guilty to opposing gay marriage on religious grounds and the ensuing exposure of Cathy's and Chick-fil-A's support of anti-gay groups.
I grew up in a household in which I learned at a very young age about boycotting. My Holocaust survivor mother forbid the purchase of any German products in our home, and we never drank Welch's Grape Juice because the company's owner was the founder of the John Birch Society. It was my parents' individual choice to boycott certain items based on who we were and what I was raised to believe in.
Carrying on that tradition, I will now boycott Chick-fil-A until they stop their support for extremist, bigoted, anti-gay religious groups.
But I will also be the first to yell "foul" if these mayors carry out their threat against Chick-fil-A to limit their access to do business in their cities.
In 21st century America, it should still be up to me, the individual consumer, who and who not to boycott, not radical, self-righteous officials on a quest for the ultimate sound bite.
Published in the Sun Sentinel on August 2, 2012
Follow Steven Kurlander on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@Kurlykomments