Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Until recently, the most controversial thing about the Chick-Fil-A Corporation is that their highly addictive food isn’t available on Sundays. After creating the perfect chicken biscuit it just doesn’t seem right that they do not make it available on a Sunday morning.
Founder Truett Cathy has been quite resolute about his company’s operation since its founding, and there are guiding principles to which he will not yield. There are no sales on Sunday because it is to be a day of rest. Some have argued that not opening on Sundays has cost the company billions. Others believe it demonstrates a commitment to values which makes customers return again and again.
The Cathy family which owns the privately held Chick-Fil-A Corporation extends those values in other ways. They have long been a supporter of children’s charities, operating foster care operations and being a large benefactor of Rome Georgia’s Berry College through their affiliated WinShape Foundation.
Chick-Fil-A has also had a deep commitment to higher education, offering scholarships to those who are employed in their stores. Since 1973, Chick-Fil-A has made their employees eligible to win tuition grants, ranging from $1,000 to $32,000. Part of the values embodied by the company has been the recognition of their primary labor force includes those who are not just cheap labor, but those still developing in their personal and career foundations.
Despite Chick-Fil-A’s history of supporting students and higher education in general, there is a growing movement to have Chick-Fil-A banned from college campuses. Some activists have labeled Chick-Fil-A as being “anti-gay”, and thus believe they should not be allowed to operate campus concessions because they don’t respect diversity.
Northeastern University is the most recent college to rescind an offer for Chick-Fil-A to open, despite the chain being among the top of those requested in a student survey. The evidence that Northeastern used to determine that Chick-Fil-A was “anti-gay” were contributions to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, The National Christian Foundation, and the Marriage and Legacy Fund- all organizations with Christian ties.
Chick-Fil-A gave a statement to the Boston Globe, saying “The most important thing we need to confirm is that we are not anti-anybody and Chick-fil-A has no agenda, policy or position against anyone as some reports continue to represent. Here’s the clarification and correction. Chick-fil-A has been scrutinized of late about our charitable giving, specifically through our WinShape Foundation, and whether or not we have some hidden political agenda. We don’t. Our agenda is simple: to graciously serve great food and have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A. This is the reason why we were initially invited to the campus.”
Despite the lack of any evidence of Chick-Fil-A’s discrimination against homosexuals, the line being advanced by activists is represented in opinions such as that written by Iowa State University Assistant Professor Warren J. Blumenfield. He asks in the Huffington Post, “While private companies like Chick-Fil-A most certainly and clearly have the right to support organizations and causes of their choice, should public tax-supported institutions such as universities maintain connections with those companies that expressly violate campus non-discrimination policies?”
As such, he invokes the proper protective mechanism but for the wrong reason. The civil rights act prohibits discrimination based on race, creed, color, age, sex, religion, or national origin. Note that religion is specifically included, but sexual orientation is not. Chick-Fil-A is specifically being discriminated against because of its Christian ties, with no evidence whatsoever that the chain discriminates against homosexuals.
There are clear and admitted violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 being committed by Northeastern University. Chick-Fil-A is being blocked from the opportunity to sell their products solely on the basis of religion. Though thinly veiled, the justification used by the university makes this a fact that is not in dispute.
As such, it is the duty and responsibility of the Justice Department to sue Northeastern University to defend Chick-Fil-A from the open hostility they are facing because of the way they choose to distribute charitable giving. The Obama administration currently remains silent on this issue.
Chick-Fil-A has seen calls for boycotts over the years because of these same donations. They generally have not gathered momentum because gay current and former Chick-Fil-A employees have come forward speaking of friendly working environments and being accepted in the workplace.
Social conservatives well overplayed the issue of religious charities being forced to provide contraceptive coverage in their health plans, turning the issue into a certain electoral loser. They would be well advised to not allow this issue into one of anti-homosexuality, but one of active and declared religious discrimination.
As Assistant Professor Blumenfield points out, there is a federal role here. Private Northeastern University receives federal funds. If the civil rights act is to have actual meaning, it must be fairly and equally enforced. As of now, this is not the case. And this must change.