Am I Right?

How to live ethically

Support, Boycott or Bar Chick-fil-A: Only Two Choices are Defensible

Personal and government decisions aren't the same

I’m from New York but I knew of Chick-fil-A’s reputation as serving some of the best Southern fried chicken. So when I spent this spring as a visiting professor in South Carolina, I thought I’d stop in at one of the restaurants.

There was one about ten minutes from my apartment. This was certainly an attractive restaurant in an area bereft of good food. The night I visited, dozens of people, black and white, lined up to place their orders. I read the menu, began to imagine what great Southern chicken tasted like. Then I walked out.

I couldn’t bring myself to patronize a restaurant whose mission is ““to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us.” My problem was that the year before, the privately owned company had sponsored a marriage seminar in Pennsylvania by a prominent anti-gay activist group.

Chick-fil-A is now front page news with several city mayors saying they don’t want a restaurant in their town that is anti-gay.

Chick-fil-A is clear and consistent in its position. It has donated more than $5 million to anti-gay groups. President Dan Cathy told the Baptist Press that his company was “guilty as charged” for backing “the biblical definition of a family.”

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Cathy is free to accept or reject homosexuality, as he has the right to read into the bible whatever he wants. And if people want to eat Cathy’s chicken because they, too, want to glorify God, that’s their choice.

But the government goes a step too far when it refuses to offer licenses to eating establishments because it disagrees with the opinions of the owners. If the restaurants discriminated against anyone, customer or employee, because of any of the constitutionally protected categories, that would be one thing. But no one has accused Chick-fil-A of practicing discrimination in its restaurants. The complaint is what it does with its profits.

If anyone has a problem with that, the solution is clear-cut. Do what I did: don’t patronize the place. In fact, I went hungry that night, as I didn’t have a chance to get dinner anywhere else. That didn’t bother me. Just the opposite. It made my sacrifice all the more real, modest as it was.

Everyone I know who has eaten at Chick-fil-A agrees that it is far and away the best Southern fried chicken at a chain restaurant. I can only imagine. But that’s OK with me. I would feel worse if my stomach trumped my conscience.

Now I wish the mayors would leave the restaurant alone and let it fail because there are enough people who oppose discrimination who will walk right on by no matter how tempting the chicken may be.

Arthur Dobrin, D.S.W., teaches applied ethics at Hofstra University. He is the author, coauthor, and editor of more than twenty books.

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