Enter the Thought Police

The recent Chick-Fil-A controversy has revealed a troubling assertion of power by mayors of at least two city governments that is contrary to principles of freedom of speech and is frankly un-American.There’s been a lot in the news lately about Chick-Fil-A and the CEO’s opposition to same-sex marriage. While it’s easy to get bent out of shape and let anger take over and charge Chick-Fil-A with pitchforks and torches, we need to think rationally about the issue.Now first of all, the issue of same-sex marriage is not even the point here. For the record, we are all for people having the freedom to marry whoever they want. If the CEO of a popular restaurant chain expresses personal opposition to gay marriage, that’s his right to do so, just as it is the right of any group of individuals to send a message that they do not agree by boycotting and withholding their patronage from the restaurant chain.
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The issue here is not gay marriage. The issue that alarms us here is people’s reaction to a CEO’s own opinion. Last we checked, people in America were entitled to their own opinions. There are some people who are deeply religious, and according to their religion, same-sex marriage is not acceptable. Do we agree? No. Do we uphold their right to keep their belief? Absolutely. Chick-Fil-A is a family company that was founded on Christian beliefs. It’s been closed on Sundays since it opened, even in malls whose food courts are open on Sundays. Again, it’s a privately-owned business entitled to its own beliefs.
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But what is troubling and unacceptable in this case, is the willingness of politicians to use the power of government to impose sanctions on the company for the beliefs of a private individual.  Boston mayor Thomas Menino and Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanual both stated a willingness to use official and unofficial means to ban future Chick-Fil-A restaurants from opening up in their cities.Is Chick-Fil-A refusing service to gay patrons? The restaurant is known for having the friendliest service of all the fast-food chains, regardless of what kind of customer is being served. Is Chick-Fil-A being discriminatory in hiring employees? No; their hiring practices conform to all EOE regulations.
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The point here is this: Chick-Fil-A is not doing anything illegal. It’s not discriminating against patrons or employees. It’s not doing anything to warrant being banned from a city. If a mayor can ban a restaurant from moving into a city simply based on the beliefs of its CEO, where is the line drawn? Can a Republican mayor ban from his city any business whose CEO donated money to the Obama campaign? Can a Democratic mayor ban from her town a business whose CEO drives around with a Romney sticker on his bumper? At what point will people become afraid to express their opinions? Do we need to give CEOs surveys now, asking them about their political, religious, and personal beliefs before deciding whether to patronize their companies?
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What about honesty? Should the CEO have simply lied about his beliefs in order to attract business? Become like most politicians, spouting out whatever people want to hear in order to ensure temporary success? Is nothing to be said for having an opinion and standing up for it? We can’t help but remember a scene from 1984 in which the Thought Police bring in one of the citizens of Oceania for talking in his sleep, saying bad things about Big Brother and the Party. The man had not taken action against the government: it was simply his subconscious opinion, which the government forced him to repress during waking hours, coming to the surface. But he was dragged in for questioning, brainwashing, even torture, and unknown further action best left to the imagination.
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Are we now persecuting people for their opinions?So what to do if you don’t agree with the CEO of Chick-Fil-A? The great thing about a free market is that no one is forced to make a purchase–unless of course we’re talking about Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act, but that’s another discussion for another day.  But in the fast food market, there’s plenty of competition. If you have a hankering for fast food but don’t want to support a company run by someone who is anti-gay-marriage, then go to McDonald’s. Or Burger King.Each time you go, send a copy of your receipt to Chick-Fil-A to let them know you’re boycotting and show them the business they could have been earning. Simple. If enough people do this, maybe the CEO will get the message and change his mind. Or maybe his convictions are so strong that it won’t matter to him. Some people, right or wrong, stand for principle over material success. And although we can’t agree with the CEO, we admire that spirit.
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The attitudes of city mayors, councilors, and aldermen who would use the power of government on a whim to force business leaders to espouse ideas that they find politically expedient is especially repugnant. Such politicians who are willing to use their positions to impose values on others using the power of government are much more despicable and dangerous than a private citizen who expresses opinion but does not force action from others.
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If we choose to patronize Chick-Fil-A, it’s not to lend our support to the statements the CEO made about gay marriage. This is America, and the CEO has a right to his opinion.
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No, if we decide to go to Chick-Fil-A, it’ll be for one reason: they have damn good milkshakes. Oh, and the cow’s cute, too.