Chick-fil-A knuckles under
Chalk up a win for totalitarianism, as the New York Times reports “a Chicago alderman said Wednesday that he would support a new Chick-fil-A restaurant in his ward after the company agreed to re-evaluate which groups its wealthy foundation supports and to strengthen its internal anti-discrimination policies.”
(Emphasis mine.) In other words, a private company has signaled its willingness to embrace the political stances dictated by Chicago’s ruling Party, in order to “earn” the privilege of building stores in the area. The letter from Chick-fil-A real estate director John E. Featherston Jr. to Chicago alderman Joe Moreno should chill every American to the bone: “The WinShape Foundations is now taking a much closer look at the organizations it considers helping, and in that process will remain true to its stated philosophy of not supporting organizations with political agendas.”
And if that’s not creepy enough for you, look at how Moreno interpreted it, saying in an interview that he thinks the company will “stop using money to fund groups that have antigay causes.” The Times clarifies this to mean “groups such as Focus on the Family, Exodus International or other groups that oppose marriage equality or have fought the expansion of gay rights.”
“Antigay causes” and opposing “marriage equality?” This is how liberty dies: the raw exercise of totalitarian power to re-define certain viewpoints as beyond the pale, and in fact functionally illegal. Has there been a comparable precedent, in which a company was required to ritually humble itself before a compulsory political agenda in order to continue doing business?
And perhaps more to the point, what next? Is it cool if other municipal governments decide to force companies to stop supporting gay rights groups? How about forcing them to abandon support for radical environmental groups, whose agenda could be doing substantial and measurable harm to the city or county in question? Or is this a special new brand of highly focused government power, deployed only to punish unacceptable views about gay marriage? And if so, are any of these Chicago tough guys going to tell Muslim-owned businesses they can’t support “antigay” causes?
Notice the sinister conflation of Chick-fil-A’s past support of traditional marriage with outright, illegal discrimination. The Times notes that the company has “strengthened an internal document titled ‘Chick-fil-A: Who We Are’ to emphasize that the chain, which has more than 1,600 stores, will ‘treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their beliefs, race, creed, sexual orientation and gender.’”
That’s nice. Were they ever credibly accused of doing otherwise? Were there reports of Chick-fil-A refusing to serve or employ people because of their “beliefs, race, creed, sexual orientation, or gender” that I missed?
The restaurant chain had a business decision to make, and a few “We Support Chick-fil-A Days” with big sales could not perpetually offset the costs of doing battle against this kind of pressure, which was not coming exclusively from Chicago. It’s possible that the agreement reached by Chick-fil-A will turn out to involve more rhetorical concessions than practical changes, but that seems unlikely, because it would just start the whole process again, and next time more profound gestures of submission to angry politicians would doubtless be demanded. Unfortunately, the precedent set by this case is likely to cost everyone – and not just advocates of traditional marriage – plenty over the long run.
It should not be necessary to agree with any of the causes Chick-fil-A’s foundation gave money to in order to oppose this kind of bullying. That’s the point: we should resist the totalitarian imposition of politics into every aspect of our lives and commerce. We should resist the substitution of compulsion for persuasion.
The lead paragraph of the Times story says, “The question of whether or not to eat at Chick-fil-A got a bit murkier for people who use the company’s chicken sandwiches as a political totem in the culture war over gay rights and marriage.” The availability of chicken sandwiches, and the decision to consume them, should not be a “murky” political calculation involving “totems.”