First Amendment Trumps Critics of Chick-fil-A’s Views


A version of this article appeared July 28, 2012, on page A2 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal.

Copyright 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved
U.S. NEWS July 27, 2012, 8:02 p.m. ET

First Amendment Trumps Critics of Chick-fil-A
By JACK NICA

CHICAGO—The First Amendment is coming to the rescue of a chicken-sandwich chain
that has drawn the ire of politicians outraged by its president’s public opposition to gay
marriage.

One by one, local officials here and in Boston have revised their comments regarding
the entrepreneur’s stance against gay marriage, tiptoeing between their disapproval of
remarks he made on the subject and his right to say them.

With the fast-food chicken sandwich chain in the news for its anti-gay-marriage stand,
we look at the legalities of trying to prevent a chain from entering a city for ideological
reasons as politicians have proposed in Chicago and Boston. Jack Nicas has details on
The News Hub.

Last week, Dan Cathy, president and chief operating officer of Chick-fil-A, a closely held
company based in an Atlanta suburb that operates 1,600 fast-food restaurants in 39
states, said he opposed gay marriage and supported the “biblical definition of the family
unit.”

The comment sparked a public backlash that included same-sex “kiss-in” protests at
Chick-fil-A restaurants and social-media campaigns to boycott the chain. Public officials
from Boston to Chicago announced their opposition to the company’s expansion in
those cities.

Chicago Alderman Proco Moreno wrote in the Chicago Tribune Thursday, “Because of
[Mr. Cathy’s] ignorance, I will deny Chick-fil-A a permit to open a restaurant in my ward.”
On Friday, Mr. Moreno conceded that free-speech rights trump his authority on the
issue, and shifted his focus from Mr. Cathy’s remarks to potential discriminatory policies
at the fast-food chain. He said he would reopen talks with Chick-fil-A, but pledged to
fight the company until it amends or clarifies its anti-discrimination policy.

Chick-fil-A, which promotes its Christian values and is closed Sundays, said in a
statement that the “culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every
person with honor, dignity and respect—regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual
orientation or gender.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino have similarly
sought to clarify earlier statements that they opposed Chick-fil-A, saying they never
intended to legally block the chain’s efforts for new restaurants in their cities.
“The mayor simply said that Chick-fil-A’s [president] does not share Chicago’s values,”
Mr. Emanuel’s spokeswoman said in a statement. “If they meet all the usual
requirements, then they can open their restaurant just like any other business.”
The clarifications comes as legal experts said there are no legal grounds to block a
company’s land-use application because of an executive’s political views.

Alan Weinstein, a professor of law at Cleveland State University who specializes on the
intersection of land-use law and constitutional issues, said he has seen officials try to
use zoning laws to block adult stores or religious institutions, but never a commercial
enterprise because of political views. He said that beyond the First Amendment, “in the
land-use sphere, the government has no legitimate interest” in the political views of an
applicant.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which stressed it disagreed with Mr. Cathy’s views, said it supports his right to say them. “If a government can silence an anti-gay business,
the government can silence a pro-gay business,” said Adam Schwartz, a lawyer with the
ACLU’s Illinois chapter.

Mr. Moreno plays a big role in Chick-fil-A’s application for a second Chicago restaurant
because of an unwritten rule among city politicians that aldermen have the final say on
zoning applications in their wards. Though it is rare not to respect that tradition,
Alderman Danny Solis, chairman of the city’s zoning committee, said he would be
forced to ignore Mr. Moreno’s request to deny the Chick-fil-A application.
“If he came in and said congestion or traffic was a problem, we would respect that,” he
said. “But this is a social issue that I don’t think would stand legal ground.”
Mr. Moreno said in addition to questions about the new Chick-fil-A’s traffic plan, he is
tying his approval for a permit to the company’s antidiscrimination policy.

Civil Rights Agenda, an Illinois gay-rights advocacy group, said it is working with Mr.
Moreno and Chick-fil-A to insert new language into the company’s corporate policy
regarding the gay community. The group’s executive director, Anthony Martinez, said he
is also working with former Chick-fil-A employees and “looking into different areas where
[Chick-fil-A] may have overtly discriminated against the [gay] community.”

A Chick-fil-A spokesman said the company treats all employees and customers equally.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg also spoke out on the issue Friday, saying he
disagrees “really strongly” with banning a business because of its personal beliefs. “You
really don’t want to ask political beliefs or religious beliefs before you issue a permit,” he
said. “That’s just not government’s job.”

Separately, Amazon.com Inc. founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife, Mackenzie,
donated $2.5 million this week to defeat a referendum to repeal a new law in
Washington State allowing same-sex marriage.

Also, Chick-fil-A said the head of its public-relations division, Don Perry, died suddenly
Friday morning. He had been with the company 29 years.

Write to Jack Nicas at jack.nicas@wsj.com
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