A Victory for Free Speech…and Chicken

The line told the story. Vehicles, as far as the eye could see, wrapped around the Chick-Fil-A restaurant in Bowie. But the line didn’t stop there. It spilled out into the entrance road and took a sharp left on to the frontage road. Like a long-winding country road, the line continued all the way out to Route 301, wrapping around another corner into a turn lane, slowing traffic on a four-lane road.

In all, more than 50 vehicles were lined up to go through the Chick-Fil-A drive-thru. As we waited in line, I noticed that not only was the parking lot full, but nearby parking lots were full as well. Inside the restaurant, there was not an open table to be found. Customers waited three and four deep at the counter, waiting to place their orders. 

As we waited in the drive-thru line, I couldn’t help thinking that on any other day, a line this long would elicit relentless honking, shaking of angry fists and more complaints than any on-duty manager probably handles in a month.

But on this day – August 1, 2012 – this line was filled with content people, willing to wait 10, 20 30 minutes or more to get their lunch. They were there to show their support for free speech and traditional marriage on a day known as “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day,” organized primarily by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

“For the past few hours, we’ve been averaging 110 cars an hour,” said the manager as he stood outside the pick-up window, a smile on his face. Chick-Fil-A’s stellar customer service was on center stage; we were in line less than 15 minutes. 

Ever since Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy recently said in a radio interview that he and his restaurant supports biblical values and traditional marriage, city mayors and gay marriage advocates have been slamming Cathy and those who support his views for espousing hate, bigotry and intolerance. But the tide changed dramatically in recent days, culminating in today’s stand, where around the country, including in Chicago where Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Chick-Fil-A did not represent his city’s values, Chick-Fil-A restaurants were swarmed by supporters who were willing to stand or sit in long lines to show their support for free speech and traditional marriage.

As I wrote a week ago in this space, Cathy was asked a question about traditional marriage and he answered it. He had every right to express his viewpoints. But when he did, the mayors of Chicago and Boston threatened to deny new Chick-Fil-A restaurants entry into their cities. So much for the First Amendment, right? In a time when jobs are scarce, commerce being denied by mayors who don’t agree with personal viewpoints is not only self-serving for political reasons, it is unacceptable.

But it didn’t stop there. Gay marriage supporters took to the Internet, Facebook and blogs, slamming Cathy and anyone brave and audacious enough to support him. In regard to free speech, a double standard of the most extreme and ugly kind was taking place.

After my last blog where I expressed my opinion without hate or malice, I received the following email:

“You really have no room to talk about this issue! The Catholic church should remain silent about gay equality! Apparently you are also an ignorant human being! I am gay and proud to be and will boycott Chick Fil A and perhaps the catholic church as well!”

So, in addition to not having the right to express an opinion on the issue, I was also accused of being ignorant. 

My response was as follows:

“I appreciate your right to express your opinion, as I hope you appreciate the right for me to express mine. We both have the right to do so. If you read my blog carefully, you’ll note that I said people can choose to patronize or not patronize a restaurant or any business based on its stance on any issue. You have a right to not give business to Chick-Fil-A based on Mr. Cathy’s comments. But by responding to a question and expressing his opinion, Mr. Cathy was not hating or discriminating against anyone and neither was I in my blog, just as you expressing your opinion of me and my opinions is not hate, although you use some pretty strong language. I understand, as do most people, that the issue of gay/traditional marriage is a sensitive one. All Catholics are called to be sensitive to the vary opinions on this issue and to be pastoral to all the faithful. However, the Church, just like any other organization, is allowed to take a stance and has a moral obligation to do so. The Catholic position on traditional marriage is based on both biblical principles and tradition. I hope you continue on your journey as a Catholic and continue to embrace the Church and investigate and research why it takes the positions it does on a variety of issues.

Today, thousands of people across the country stood up and made a statement that those who support traditional values and traditional marriage won’t be silenced, bullied or shamed by those who believe we do not have the right to express our opinions.

And while waiting in lines today, thousands of people were rewarded for standing up for their convictions with a delicious chicken sandwich. A great day all-around.  


Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.