The president of Chick-fil-A opposes gay marriage. While this view goes against the grain in a state that made history by embracing it, it’s no reason for Mayor Thomas M. Menino to oppose a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Boston.
The fast food chicken sandwich chain was reportedly looking at property near Faneuil Hall at the location where the Purple Shamrock currently operates. Then company president Dan Cathy stirred national controversy when he said in an interview that “we’re inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.” In response, Menino told the Boston Herald, “Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the City of Boston that discriminates against a population. We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion.”
But which part of the First Amendment does Menino not understand? A business owner’s political or religious beliefs should not be a test for the worthiness of his or her application for a business license.
Chick-fil-A must follow all state and city laws. If the restaurant chain denied service to gay patrons or refused to hire gay employees, Menino’s outrage would be fitting. And the company should be held to its statement that it strives to “treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation, or gender.” But beyond the fact that Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays, the religious beliefs of the company’s top executive don’t appear to control its operations.
The situation was different when Northeastern University blocked a proposed Chick-fil-A amid student protests. In that case, a private institution made its own decision not to bring the company in as a vendor. But using the power of government to freeze the company out of a city sends a disturbing message to all businesses. If the mayor of a conservative town tried to keep out gay-friendly Starbucks or Apple, it would be an outrage.
Ironically, Menino is citing the specific location along the Freedom Trail as a reason to block Chick-fil-A. A city in which business owners must pass a political litmus test is the antithesis of what the Freedom Trail represents. History will render judgment on the views of Chick-fil-A executives. City Hall doesn’t have to.