The Corner

Law & the Courts

San Antonio Violates the First Amendment to Punish Chick-fil-A

Containers at a Chick-fil-A branch in midtown Manhattan (Rashid Umar Abbasi/Reuters)

The San Antonio city council has voted to block Chick-fil-A from opening a store in its airport to punish it for donating to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army.

No, really. Here’s the report, from Fortune:

Don’t plan on getting a Chick-Fil-A sandwich next time you fly through San Antonio Airport.

The city’s district council approved a new concession agreement for the airport on Thursday that will bring in more local establishments and specifically bans the popular chicken sandwich chain. At issue, apparently, is the donation of money by the Chick-Fil-A to groups that have been accused of discriminating against the LGBTQ community.

The council was apparently reacting to a breathless Think Progress allegation that in 2017, the Chick-fil-A Foundation gave more than $1.8 million to a trio of groups with a record of anti-LGBTQ discrimination. The donations included more than $1.6 million of the FCA, $150,000 to the Salvation Army, and a small $6,000 gift to the Paul Anderson Youth Home. By Think Progress’s standard, a company is committing a terrible sin whenever it gives money to a traditional Christian ministry. After all, FCA is merely upholding traditional Christian teaching that sexual activity is reserved for a marriage between a man and a woman. The donation to the Salvation Army is apparently based on the Salvation Army’s past policies, since Think Progress admits that the Salvation Army currently has a national policy of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The FCA and the Salvation Army (I’m not familiar with the work of the youth home) both do an immense amount of good in this nation. No one seriously questions the Salvation Army’s value, and the FCA is a fixture in the lives of hundreds of thousands of American youth. It provides a spiritual home for countless kids and often a community of friends they can find nowhere else. Does inclusion now demand that corporate donors exclude them from support? Apparently so. Here’s San Antonio city councilman Robert Trevino:

With this decision, the City Council reaffirmed the work our city has done to become a champion of equality and inclusion. San Antonio is a city full of compassion, and we do not have room in our public facilities for a business with a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior . . . Everyone has a place here, and everyone should feel welcome when they walk through our airport. I look forward to the announcement of a suitable replacement by Paradies.”

This is Orwellian nonsense. This action isn’t based on any alleged mistreatment of gay customers. Instead it’s based on the notion that a person won’t feel welcome in an airport because they disagree with the charitable donations of a foundation connected to one of the airport’s vendors. That’s absurd. That’s more fake outrage. And it’s unsustainable for a free people in a pluralistic society. Should we only feel welcome in spaces where we know the owners share our faith?

And this time it’s unconstitutional fake outrage — at least when manifested through government action. Simply put, the government may not condition the ability to operate a business on the government’s distaste for the religious or political donations of its owners. That’s pure viewpoint discrimination, and if Chick-fil-A chooses to sue, it will not only win, but the city council’s intolerance will likely cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars.

There is a fundamental difference between state action against an employer based on violations of constitutionally valid state statutes — such as violations of valid nondiscrimination laws — and state action against an employer based on the employer’s constitutionally protected acts of support for individuals or causes. San Antonio is defying the law, it’s further polarizing our country, and it’s telling the Christian citizens and Christian ministries in its own city limits that their beliefs are so repugnant that the government should punish even private organizations who support their work.

Until the decision is reversed, San Antonio isn’t a champion of equality and inclusion. It’s an instrument of censorship and bigotry.

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