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Pfaff '14: Chick-fil-A and the First Amendment


Let's quickly recap what has happened with Chick-fil-A in the past month or so, since we as Brown students haven't gotten much of a chance to discuss it yet. Company president Dan Cathy said in an interview that he was "guilty as charged" of standing against gay marriage, choosing instead to define marriage as between a man and a women. In response, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel expressed strong disapproval. Jim Henson Company cancelled a deal to allow Chick-fil-A to use the Muppets intellectual property for their kids' meal toys, and Chick-fil-A supporter and former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee called for a "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" Aug. 1.

Needless to say, there's been a ton of debate on both sides, and here are the key talking points: the First Amendment, free speech, freedom of religion, government power, homosexuality - and how it appears in the Bible.

There's a lot of ways I could tackle this problem, so let me get my biases out of the way: I support gay marriage. I believe that homosexuality is not a choice made by individuals but rather part of a deeper inherent nature, and I believe that nowadays established religion, especially Christianity, occasionally does more harm than good. Also, I was raised in Chicago - Cubs over the Red Sox, if you make me choose.

I don't have the space to address everything, so I want to focus on the debate over the First Amendment, because misunderstanding and abusing the freedom of speech is something that bothers me in any situation. There are always going to be differences in opinion regarding faith-based issues, but the importance of freedom of speech is something that both sides can agree on.

The First Amendment reads as follows: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." 

Chick-fil-A is not an establishment of religion. It is an establishment of chicken sandwiches and waffle fries. Congress isn't allowed to say that Dan Cathy is forbidden from going to church, and by extension, Menino and Emanuel aren't allowed to say that either. Additionally, it's illegal for government officials to ban Chick-fil-A in their cities for its president's beliefs, this being a violation of freedom of religion. This is the people's government, though, and if the citizens of Boston and Chicago want to prevent another Chick-fil-A from being put up in their town, there's nothing that the First Amendment can do to stop them.

What really bothers me is when people pull out the First Amendment as if it's some kind of fireproof shield for being an insensitive jerk, especially when their logic is flawed. Self-proclaimed Christian crusaders need to stop acting as if they're being victimized. Are there atheists who are far too in-your-face about their views? Absolutely. But it's ridiculous to think that there is some kind of assault being mounted from the left that's seeking to topple all of religion. Huckabee was recently interviewed on Fox News, and he literally used the phrase "bigotry toward Christians." Huckabee then went on to accuse Emanuel of "censor(ing) commerce." Give me a break.

It's true that the opposition to Chick-fil-A has some flaws. Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno said that in order for him to allow a Chick-fil-A in his district, among other conditions, Dan Cathy would have to issue a public apology. This isn't the right move. Cathy legitimately should not have to apologize for his honesty, because in fairness, the things he said were not hate speech.  That said, the citizens of Chicago, Boston and all other cities are free to boycott whichever business they choose.

The debate over homosexuality and gay marriage is absolutely the civil rights debate of our generation. We are slowly, inexorably moving towards tolerance, and anybody who insists on staying behind is going to start looking like the men, women and children who protested black suffrage and Ruby Bridges attending a desegregated school.

Ultimately, the issue is not going to be won by chief executive officers or government officials - it's going to be decided by the people. Citizens need to vote with their wallets, but they also need to realize what they're voting about. Dining at Chick-fil-A is an action that gives money to an organization that can then use that money to support anti-gay measures. With this knowledge in hand, if you still choose to eat there, then gladly enjoy your chicken sandwich. But don't pretend that you are a defender of the Bill of Rights.


Charlie Pfaff '14 is an economics concentrator and will stick with Chicken Finger Fridays from now on. He can be reached at



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