Culture

The Next Front in the War on Religious Freedom

(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)
Denver and Chicago persecute businesses based on their owners’ beliefs

Stop bellyaching about Washington. All the country’s best fascists are on your local city council.

Not long ago, Colorado became a leader in the fight against religious freedom when its Civil Rights Commission, self-appointed ministers of justice and theology, decided that a shopkeeper who refuses to participate in a gay wedding ceremony must be smeared and fined out of business. A Colorado appeals court says this is kosher, finding that the brittle sensitivities of a cakeless couple outweigh the constitutional rights of Christian business owners.

Now, in an effort to save everyone some time, the cultural imperialists at the Denver city council have decided to skip the pretense of some trumped-up injustice and jumped right to discriminating against a business solely because of the beliefs of its CEO.

The Denver city council’s Business Development Committee has stalled a seven-year deal with Chick-fil-A because CEO Dan Cathy spoke out against gay marriage back in 2012. Cathy, after being flogged for this misconduct, backed off, saying he regretted getting involved. But that won’t do. There are no prisoners in this culture war. So the city council will meet in a couple of weeks to take up the topic again. It’s not so that the members can take time to chew over the significance of a city’s punishing its citizens for their thoughts and beliefs, or even to weigh the importance of tolerance in a vibrant city such as Denver. They’re waiting to have a closed-door committee hearing with city attorneys, who will brief them on the legal implications and practicality of shutting down apostates.

The only thing that might stop Denver from pulling this concession from an apologetic Christian, then, would be a few risk-averse bureaucrats. This, even though Chick-fil-A has not been accused of any infraction or crime. No one has even suggested it’s guilty of make-believe acts of discrimination. Chick-fil-A has given assurances, in fact — as have all other concessionaires at Denver International Airport — that it will follow non-discrimination policies laid out by law, which include protections for sexual orientation.

So what’s the point? Well, councilwoman Robin Kniech asked a concessionaire this question: “If the national corporation with which you are affiliated once again puts themselves at the center of a national debate about depriving people and their families of rights, would you as a concessionaire have any ability to influence that?”

“I don’t believe so,” he answered.

“I don’t think you would, either,” Kniech said. “And that’s my concern.”

So that’s her concern? Setting aside the oversimplification of the debate surrounding marriage, since when is it the interest of a city councilor to monitor the political activities of citizens and wonder how she deals with vendors who displease her sensibilities? Do Americans with minority opinions function under some different set of laws? The only entity with the power to deprive anyone or anyone’s family of rights, in this case, is the city council. So please tell me how Kniech isn’t a petty tyrant.

Since when is it the interest of a city councilor to monitor the political activities of citizens and wonder how she deals with vendors who displease her sensibilities?

Of course, Denver is not alone. A few years back, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel supported an alderman’s efforts to block Chick-fil-A from opening in his city because of, as the media like to say, the “anti-gay views” of its CEO — which, only a couple of years beforehand, had been the anti-gay views of President Barack Obama and Emanuel, his chief of staff. The Chicago city council didn’t go through with it, after “assurances” from the company that the virtue of Chicago would be protected.

Denver councilman Paul Lopez, who is leading the intellectual charge for the ban — a task that meshes poorly with his skill set — says that in the end, opposition to the chain at the airport is “really, truly a moral issue.” Now, when the Founding Fathers told us that government can make no law respecting an establishment of religion, I took it to mean that the belief system of a union-installed sock puppet on a city council would be completely irrelevant in matters of expression and faith. Really, truly.

Now, people are free to boycott and protest whomever they please. Citizens and elected officials have every right to work to cut off taxpayer funding to businesses and institutions they find morally distasteful. But if the city council of Anytown, USA, were to concoct reasons to deny permits to gay business owners who support same-sex marriage, many Americans would rightfully find that appalling. If you’re OK with the idea of a city council’s denying Christians who believe in traditional marriage the same freedom, you’re a massive hypocrite — and probably worse.

David Harsanyi is a senior editor of the Federalist and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun, From the Revolution to Today

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