Let me be clear about my personal reaction to Chik-fil-A’s corporate homophobia–expressed by its financial support for anti-gay organizations and most recently by the “guilty as charged” statement of its President. I do not patronize Chik-fil-A, and I encourage my friends and family to spend their money elsewhere. When the occasion arises, I communicate my disapproval of the corporation’s message and my hope that consumers who agree with me will communicate theirs by eating elsewhere.

But I do not applaud efforts by elected officials to treat the chain differently than any other business because of its message and beliefs.

When I was at the ACLU, the Klan was denied the right to hold a rally on the Statehouse steps. Other organizations routinely were granted permission to do so. We represented the KKK– the Jewish Executive Director (me), our African-American legal secretary, and a gay co-operating (volunteer) attorney. It certainly wasn’t because any of us agreed with the Klan’s odious message. It was because we knew that the government that could deny equal rights to the Klan today could just as easily deny equal rights to us tomorrow.

In our system–a system far too many of us don’t understand–the government has an obligation to remain neutral about ideas, even–as Justice Holmes memorably wrote–about “the idea we hate.” If Chik-fil-A, or the Klan, or the ACLU wants to open a store or office somewhere, and are otherwise following the rules, their views should not be part of the decision-making process.

The gay community, especially, should understand the importance of government neutrality. Until very recently, government officials could be counted on to exercise their powers to suppress, rather than support, GLBT folks. The social change we rightly celebrate–where a Chik-fil-A is roundly condemned for anti-gay bias–would have been impossible but for the free marketplace of ideas that the First Amendment protects.

In our system, government stays neutral so that individuals don’t have to. That means we each have an obligation to be active citizens and intentional consumers. Moral bullies want government to fight their ideological battles for them; free citizens fight their own.


  1. Nicely said, Sheila. Like it or not, the First Amendment simply doesn’t protect only views that we progressives are convinced are cloaked in obvious virtue and righteousness. And it certainly doesn’t rise to the equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theatre, which has been viewed as an exception to First Amedment jurisprudence. In this case, we just have to let the smell of burned chicken linger a while and let the marketplace decide.

  2. Here is my response to a Yahoo! post about the situation at Chick-fil-A: “Chick-fil-A? No way! If my friends and/or loved ones aren’t welcome for any reason (especially one which isn’t company president Dan Cathy’s business), I won’t eat there either. Dan, Dan, Dan, it’s your company, so do as you wish. Just do it without me or my friends.

    We have a C-f-A in our town and it never did get my business…just a little too holier-than-thou for me. Luckily for fast food junkies, we have many other restaurants from which to select.”

    LATE NOTE: The Chick-fil-A person in charge of PR died suddenly today of a heart attack, according to NBC affiliates. My sympathy to his friends and family.

  3. This article is in tandem to your earlier article, “Incivility and an Inability to Govern”; it points out the validity and importance of Senator Richard Lugar’s statement, “…that is a matter about which reasonable people can differ.” Chik-fil-A has every right to their opinion and to support any organization they choose; we have the right to simply not eat there if we disagree. And I do disagree with their view; just as I disagree with the KKK and everything they stand for. At least we don’t need to fear Chik-fil-A; just head for KFC when we need something finger-lickin’ good. We do need government neutrality regarding the right of free speech for KKK but their activities need to be closely monitored by the government to protect the safety of their targeted victims. Our elected officials need to know the difference and act – or not act – accordingly.

  4. We have all seen the hundreds of people lined up to eat at Chik-fil-A in support but, are they supporting their right to donating their profits to organizations of their choice of their anti-gay beliefs. These are two separate matters and should be clarified to have any meaning. Things are heating up over this situation and could turn ugly due to a lack of full understanding. And; there are more important matters to deal with in this country than one food chain and their religious belief.

  5. Sorry; that should read “their right to donating their profits to organizations of their choice OR their anti-gay beliefs. Fighting over fried chicken has scrambled my thinking process; sorry guys.

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