When the story about the president of Chick-fil-A’s opposition to gay marriage broke, most responses were predictable. Eliot Spitzer went on Slate to call for a boycott, Mike Huckabee announced a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day on Facebook, and the sun rose the next morning. But two people made disturbingly out-of-the-ordinary responses to the controversy: the mayor of Boston and a Chicago alderman, both of whom vowed to try to keep the fried-chicken chain from opening restaurants in the areas they oversee. As Alderman Proco Moreno put it to the Chicago Tribune, “If you are discriminating against a segment of the community, I don’t want you in the First Ward.”
Given this response, you would get the impression that the fast-food chain has banned anyone who isn’t straight from entering its establishments. That, of course, is not true. Like every other successful business, Chick-fil-A happily sells its products to anyone who can fork over a few bucks. It is controversial only for donating to organizations that oppose gay marriage, including the Family Research Council and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. But apparently that’s enough for Moreno to try to keep the business out of his ward.
It’s always bad news when political leaders make choices that should be left to the market. Regardless of how troublesome one may find Chick-fil-A’s political and religious affiliations, preserving freedom means letting individuals choose how to spend their own money — whether that’s on extra-large sodas, wings from Hooters (there are two locations in Chicago), or waffle fries from a company whose president thinks guys shouldn’t be allowed to marry each other. If Moreno believes his constituency will find the fried-chicken chain’s policies repugnant, he should trust them not to patronize it.
But Mayor Rahm Emanuel is with him. “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values,” he said. “They disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents. This would be a bad investment, since it would be empty.”
That last statement implies that Emanuel believes it is politicians, not markets, who should determine what is and isn’t a good investment. And that is bad news not just for fans of waffle fries; it bodes poorly for any Windy City business that chooses to support unpopular or controversial causes.
Boston’s mayor, Thomas Menino, has been even more explicit; it looks as if the entire city will probably miss out on the chance to boycott “Chick-fil-A or whatever the hell the name is,” as he put it. The Atlanta-based chain doesn’t have any restaurants in Beantown yet, but it has been considering opening one near the Freedom Trail. That won’t be an easy task. “If they need licenses in the city, it will be very difficult — unless they open up their policies,” Menino told the Boston Herald.
His frankness is almost refreshing; unlike the mayor of Chicago, he has made his intentions very clear. But it’s galling as well: It suggests that he sees himself as the ideological Grand Poo-Bah of a city famous for its freethinkers and iconoclasts. It also suggests that he believes mayors should have the power to exclude any business that violates their perception of their constituents’ preferences. And as Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, explained, that’s just plain un-American: “Government can’t marginalize people or businesses simply because they express disfavored views or hold disfavored religious beliefs. That’s true whether the views are liberal or conservative; Christian or Muslim; pro–same-sex marriage or against it; or whatever the topic of the day is.”
But that’s just what Menino and Moreno hope to do. Their responses recall a recent ruling by a New Mexico judge, holding that a Christian wedding photographer couldn’t refuse to photograph gay weddings. Chicago’s First Ward and the city of Boston have joined a disturbing trend of punishing businesses for the religious views of their owners, and that should concern anyone who cares about freedom.
— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.