Three Democrats in New York have started a petition to stop the Thruway Authority from allowing Chick-fil-A to open restaurants at rest stops throughout the state – and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has something to say about it. The distinguished gentleman from South Carolina calls it “banning a business due to them expressing their First Amendment rights,” but the NY Democrats say they’re preventing the state from rewarding the company’s discrimination. Are these Democrats treading dangerously close to violating the Constitution, and is this a wise fight for progressives to pick?
Just what is the left’s problem with Chick-fil-A? It may be faster to ask what isn’t. The restaurant was started by S. Truett Cathy, an evangelical Christian. The business is and has always been openly Christian. The stores are all closed on Sundays, and the code of conduct comes straight out of the Bible. As if that weren’t enough, the company used to donate money to the Salvation Army, Christian Athletes, and Paul Anderson Youth Homes, three groups accused of anti-LGBTQ views.
Oppression: It Tastes Like Chicken?
While Chick-fil-A no longer donates to these organizations – which, by the way, don’t exist solely to thwart gay marriage – that’s still just too much discrimination for Harry Bronson, the openly gay Assembly Member for the Rochester area, and his pals. He has launched a petition against adding Chick-fil-A restaurants at rest stops along I-90 as part of the Thruway Authority’s $450 million modernization project. Bronson and two other openly gay legislators, Deborah Glick and Daniel O’Donnell of Manhattan, also wrote a letter to the authority’s executive director, Matthew Driscoll.
Sen. Graham, however, sees this as more of a constitutional issue. “If such a disastrous move ever came about – banning a commercial business due to them expressing their First Amendment rights – it would set a horrible precedent,” the senator posted on Facebook. “It would also be ferociously opposed by many Members of Congress, including me.”
The First Amendment reads:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
So far, the three legislators in question haven’t violated the First Amendment. Indeed, they’re using it. But what if this agency acquiesces to the petition and interferes with the right of a company – or, more accurately, the people who run the company – to freely exercise religious beliefs and to use their dollars as political speech? What if the state legislature crosses that line and does establish a law?
Once That Box Is Open …
The problem with Graham’s line of reasoning, of course, is that progressives aren’t framing this as a constitutional issue. And remember, even if it is, “no amendment is absolute.” You can’t argue adherence to the Constitution with a leftist for the same reason you can’t argue religion with an atheist. If abortion is wrong, for example, it has to be for some reason other than “because God said so.” After all, if there is no God, your argument means nothing. The same is true here. You can’t defend free speech or freedom of religion through the First Amendment and expect to make progress with progressives because the left doesn’t really believe in the absolute freedom of expression – and the only freedom of religion they seem to recognize is the freedom from religion. Perhaps a greater argument, then, is that “dangerous precedent” Sen. Graham mentioned.
From the Thruway Authority’s website, we can see there are “27 Service Areas (food-and-fuel centers) located at convenient intervals on the Thruway system and are open 24 hours daily.” That’s a lot of potential business for Chick-fil-A. However, even without them – and without being open on Sundays or getting any money from all those anti-Christian progressives who won’t do business with them – the chain is still rated the top fast-food restaurant, and has been for seven years. Even if the entire state of New York banned the franchise, that wouldn’t put the company under. It might not even drop them from that number one rating. A full 33% of Chick-fil-A’s 2,686 locations in the nation are in three states: Texas, Georgia, and Florida. New York has a measly 29. Even Arkansas has more, at 36 – and the Natural State’s population of three million is nothing compared to the Empire State’s 19.3 million. Is this deal a great opportunity for the restaurant chain? Absolutely – it could almost double the number of locations in the state. Is losing it going to break the company? Of course not.
But now let’s examine what might happen to more progressive companies if conservatives decided to weaponize their dollars and political ideology as the left does. In 2015, a list of 38 major companies that donated to Planned Parenthood was released. Planned Parenthood both exercises that First Amendment right to support abortion and actually provides them. Some companies on the list would probably be fine. It’s unlikely enough conservatives would swear off Microsoft to make a dent in the company’s bottom line, and Nike probably doesn’t cover a lot of conservative feet to begin with. But what would happen if no pro-lifer ever drank another Pepsi brand drink? What if Liberty Mutual lost half or more of its clients in the heartland? Could you imagine if Levi Strauss never sold another pair of jeans to anyone opposed to abortion? AT&T and Verizon are both on that list – what a boon for Sprint!
Those who respect liberty usually aren’t fans of cancel culture – but what happens when it becomes clear that “live and let live” simply doesn’t work anymore? That may be a box that, once opened, can never be closed. A dangerous precedent, indeed.
Read more from James Fite.