Chik-fil-A and Free Speech

Anyone who thinks that boycotting Chik-fil-A because of their anti-gay sentiments is a violation of their free speech rights needs to go back to high school civics class.

If you were walking down a public sidewalk on a busy street and you saw someone holding a sign that said “no rights for gays” or “donate to prevent gay marriage”, would you donate money to their cause? What if the sign said “donate to repeal all civil rights laws and put blacks back into their 1950 status”? Or “women belong in the kitchen and not in the boardroom”? Maybe the sign says “support the Nazi party”.

Every one of these people have a right to be on a public sidewalk demonstrating for their cause, barring rules about permits and other administrative issues that help maintain order.

That’s because the First Amendment of the US Constitution states that government cannot make any laws that abridge the freedom of speech. So people get to stand out in public places and demonstrate and chant about all kinds of things that many reasonable people might find offensive. Remember the Westboro Baptist Church and their loud anti-gay demonstrations at military funerals? Perfectly legal, according to an 8-1 decision of the US Supreme Court.

I have been an ardent supporter of these free speech rights my entire life, and there is a reason that it is one of the very first rights listed the Constitution. It is one of the cornerstones of our republic form of government.  I supported the neo-Nazis right to protest in Skokie, Illinois in the mid-70s.

But the right of free speech means the government can’t interfere with that right. As a private citizen, I am free to do whatever I legally want in order to voice my opposition to a position. Because I have free speech rights, too. So if I saw one of those people on a sidewalk with one of those signs – I would pass them by. I certainly wouldn’t give them any money.

People who claim they are supporting Chik-fil-A because its right to free speech is more important than gay rights are seriously confused or incredibly ignorant. Choosing not to support Chik-fil-A’s position on gay marriage or any other gay rights issue does not in any way impede their right to free speech – which is only about government intervention. No government has stopped Chik-fil-A and its executive from saying exactly what it wants, and contributing to causes as it wants. They have free speech, and have exercised it appropriately.

But as a private citizen, I am free to disagree with their position in any legal way that I want. Remember the Westboro Baptist protests? People finally became outraged enough to organize their own counter-demonstration, blocking the protester’s access to the funeral. That is the American way.

Consumer boycotts against companies whose practices or philosophies are disagreeable have been around forever. In the late 60’s, I was an ardent support of the grape boycott supporting the United Farm Workers.  In the late 70’s and early 80’s I refused to buy from companies that invested in South Africa, because of their system of apartheid. No one ever claimed that these were free speech issues. They were about principles, and which principles any individual or company was going to uphold. I chose to follow my personal principles on these issues, and protest in the most civil and peaceful way I know – by withholding my money from their pockets.

If you were to give money to one of those people on the sidewalk holding a sign, what does that say about your position or principles?

No one says you can’t give money to Chik-fil-A. But if you do,  it’s your speech supporting their anti-gay agenda. It’s not one bit different than throwing money in a bucket to someone standing out on a street holding a sign. You’re not defending the First Amendment, because it’s not in jeopardy in this instance. If it was, you can bet Chik-fil-A already would have been in court. But you are telling everyone around you what principles you choose to support.  Because people are their principles.*

Pretty plain and incredibly simple.


*The full quote, from the movie The Way We Were, is

Hubbell Gardner: People are more important than their principles.

Katie Morosky Gardner: People ARE their principles






9 thoughts on “Chik-fil-A and Free Speech”

  1. Private citizen boycotts are not the free speech violation. There are politicians who violated Mr. Cathy’s right to free speech when they use their government authority to try to stop his Chik-fil-A from doing business because of Mr. Cathy’s expression of his personal views. So the government is interfering with the right to free speech in the case of Chik fil A and its owner.

  2. Tina, I know that some politicians have made noise – but I haven’t yet known any of them to actually DO anything. Politicians blowing smoke isn’t a First Amendment violation, but actually doing something might be. Which “politicians who use their government authority” are you actually referring to?

    And don’t forget, this goes beyond Mr. Cathy’s expression of his personal views. There is a history of corporate donations to organizations who support vehement anti-gay agendas.

  3. Also, Tina, the US Constitution actually reads “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” So what law has a government actually made that has people supporting Chik-fil-A in the name of free speech?

  4. We do live in America. This has turned into a circus. A man stated a personal opinion not a corporate opinion. We are all Entitled to agree or disagree. With that being said, I have many friends and family that are gay and I am very supportive of them. How this became an issue with the restaurant confuses me. I suppose it is guilt by association ?

  5. Shennee, this isn’t about Dan Cathy and his personal comments. At least, not only about them. In fact, Chik-fil-A (the corporation, not the individuals) has donated almost 5 million dollars to groups that support an highly hate-laden gay agenda. Back in 2007, Forbes did an article about CEO Truett Cathy and said this “The fast-food purveyor seeks loyal employees and operators who believe serving chicken is God’s work.” They have been sued for employment discrimination. Are you really naive enough to believe that these deeply held personal beliefs don’t influence this company, which is privately held by those same people? It’s an issue with the restaurant because that restaurant puts money in the pockets of these individuals.

    Living in America gives me the right to not put money into the pockets of people who use it for things I disagree with. What is more American than that?

  6. Hi Joan,

    Amazing, amazing article. Thank you for sharing. As a gay, young adult, issues such as these have such a hard impact on me personally. Seeing people like you who support the civil rights of gay people (as it should be) provides more comfort and support than you could know. I believe that everyone is entitled to their own views, however when it comes to laws and governing the people, strong leaders should always always have the power to overlook their own beliefs and understand what is right. No matter how close-minded ones beliefs may be, I think that it should be a natural born right to be considered equal by government.

    Thank you again Joan, your writing is truly inspirational.

  7. Very kind words indeed, Benjamin, and I thank you. I *do* support the rights of everyone – including the LGBT community – to pursue life as we know it on an equal basis. And I believe that guaranteeing those rights to the LGBT community is the next great civil rights battle. Hard work ahead.

    That said, I want to make sure that you understand that this post was not directly intended to support that civil rights battle. I attempted it to be a simple post about people having rights to their beliefs and others having rights to disagree, both in public and against each other if necessary. Just own your beliefs and don’t hide behind the First Amendment.

    Thanks again for your comment.

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