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