If you've been anywhere near social media this past week, you've probably heard about how Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-Fil-A, recently indicated his own, and his company's, support of the traditional family. He stated, “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business." In addition, Chick-Fil-A financially supports various organizations that bolster the traditional family unit. The CEO has previously said, "While my family and I believe in the Biblical definition of marriage, we love and respect anyone who disagrees.”
In response, thousands of people have boycotted his restaurant chain and are encouraging others, often vehemently, to follow suit. One disgusted individual proclaimed, "Their chicken is deep-fried in hate." Many others said that they would no longer patronize the restaurants, and several said, "And I will make sure that no one I know eats there either!" The Boston mayor is even attempting to ban Chick-Fil-A in the city.
But let's think about this for a minute. Chick-Fil-A didn't make a statement that they were going to start refusing to serve LGBT individuals in their restaurants. They didn't say that they were going to stop hiring these individuals, or that they were going to discriminate against them in promotions or selection for franchises. They simply give money to groups which support traditional family units, just as other organizations support gay marriage or gay- and lesbian-headed families. Neither are "hate groups." They just choose to offer support to different causes, as they have every right to do. An endorsement of one cause doesn't have to be an attack on another, nor can it automatically constitute discrimination. Just because your business funds a children's charity doesn't mean you "hate" the elderly. Just because I shop at Kroger doesn't mean I "hate" Publix.
No, the CEO of Chick-Fil-A simply made a public statement of his opinion, rooted in his understanding of family values and in his religious beliefs. Was it unpopular? Sure. Is he right to have that opinion? That's a conclusion each person has to reach on their own. But this is America, and Dan Cathy has as much of a right to state his opinion as you and I do. We may not like it or agree with it and we may even think it's wrong and inappropriate, but if we want to take away from others the right to state their opinions, then we had better be prepared for them to try to take that same right away from us. If the restaurant itself is not discriminating in any way, then the boycotters are boycotting because someone dared to share an unpopular opinion. They are really boycotting because someone exercised their freedom of speech and their freedom of religion. That is deeply unsettling to me, and it should be unsettling to you too, no matter where we stand in the debate.
Are we sure that we're ready to essentially start boycotting the exercise of fundamental freedoms? Are we sure that we're ready to start saying, "If your opinion isn't mine, you have no right to share it"? Because if we say it to others, then they get to say it to us too. A freedom of speech that applies only to popular opinions, and not to more controversial ones, is no freedom at all. Freedom of speech can't only extend to saying the "right" things. Freedom of religion can't only extend to believing the "right" things. For that matter, freedom of religion can't only extend to believing what I believe or what you believe.
I completely understand that many, if not most, people today disagree that traditional marriage is the only way to go. However, just as they have the right to share their opinion, so too does anyone who thinks differently. The right to an opinion cannot be one-sided, or it's not going to be a right for very long. Tolerance for the views of others cannot and should not only go one way. I want the next generation to grow up in a nation where they still have the right to disagree and to find respectful ways to present unpopular opinions--without automatically being labeled "hateful." Disagreeing with something in an appropriate way is not synonymous with hate (if you want to read more about that, check out this post I wrote a while ago). No matter what I think, I cannot ask to have a right to my own opinion while simultaneously trying to shut down others who express their own opinions. If I did that, I could--and should--be called a hypocrite. It's human nature to try to convert others to your way of thinking. But you can't trample on their rights to have an opinion as you do so.
I want future generations to grow up in an America where they can support and believe what they truly think is right, wholesome, good, and appropriate--whether they choose to verbally and financially support causes that promote gay marriage or causes that support the traditional family. Whether they are pro-life or pro-choice. Whatever their religion or political affiliation may be. Yes, I have firm opinions on these topics, just as most people do, and there's nothing wrong with respectfully and knowledgeably trying to help others see why you believe that certain causes or opinions are right. Nor do I think that people should just brazenly follow their own paths and think and do as they see fit without regard to what is morally right, compassionate, and just. But we cannot, in our pursuit to believe what we want to believe, take away the rights of others to believe what they think is right.
It's one thing to boycott a business for genuine discrimination. But to lash out at people or organizations for having an unpopular opinion? That makes me fear for the future of constitutional rights in this country. Trying to take away other people's rights to have an opinion is not a very effective way to inspire people to listen to your own. And that's true no matter where you stand in the great Chick-Fil-A debate.