This is what everyone is so worked up about never eating again.
The Muppets (well, the Jim Henson Company), sever their ties to Chick-Fil-A
The Bad: The mayor of Boston tells Chick-Fil-A to take a hike. So does the mayor of Chicago. As much as I may wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment, this is not a good idea. Near as I can tell, Chick-Fil-A has not done anything illegal, per se. It would be one thing if the company could not meet some municipal requirements for fairness in hiring, or something similar, but this appears to be a rejection by city officials, in at least two major cities, based solely on the content of Chick-Fil-A’s speech. This has First Amendment problems written all over it, because as long as Chick-Fil-A isn’t breaking the law, it can say whatever dumb crap it wants. We, as consumers, exercise our free speech by criticizing the company, and we exercise our economic rights by eating nasty fried chicken sandwiches elsewhere. The government ought to stick to enforcing the law. Plus, this action potentially sets a dangerous precedent, giving free reign to a far less tolerant mayor of some other city to deny a corporation that supports same-sex equality. (NOTE: The mayor of Boston has withdrawn his threat to bar the company from setting up shop in town.)
The Ugly: Chick-Fil-A recalls its Muppet-themed toys, citing “safety” concerns. Specifically, it claims that, although “there have not been any cases in which a child has actually been injured, however there have been some reports of children getting their fingers stuck in the holes of the puppets.” People all over the world try not to giggle, and very few believe that this announcement is unrelated to contemporary events. (NOTE: If there haven’t been any actual safety concerns, someone could get in quite a bit of trouble for saying that there are.)
The WTF? Someone pretends to be a teenage girl on Facebook in order to lamely defend Chick-Fil-A. Nothing directly links several fake Facebook pages to Chick-Fil-A, so it is likely to be some rogue ally whose help Chick-Fil-A is better of without. The girl’s account promptly disappears from Facebook once “she” is called out. Wil Wheaton helpfully puts out this missing person report:
The entire world of social media shudders in dismay. Names like Abby Farle and Cordell Bunton may go down in obscure social media history.
Honorable Mention: Rick “Frothy” Santorum joins Mike “The Huck” Huckabee (he needs a better nickname) in standing up for Chick-Fil-A. So Chick-Fil-A traded the Muppets for these two? Ouch.
UPDATE: Based on my “dangerous precedent” argument above regarding the cities of Boston and Chicago, astute reader Kathleen points out that the precedent, in a sense, was already set nearly two decades ago, right in my own backyard. The commissioners of Williamson County, Texas decided not to give tax breaks to Apple because of Apple’s policy on benefits for same-sex partners. As the AP reported on December 1, 1993:
Commissioners of a Texas county on Tuesday refused to give a tax break to Apple Computer Inc., citing the company’s policy of granting the same health benefits to partners of gay and lesbian employees that it does to heterosexual spouses.
Apple had sought $750,000 in tax abatements over seven years to build an $80-million, 700-employee complex in Williamson County, just north of Austin.
County commissioners rejected the tax abatements, 3-2.
“We’re very disappointed at this time,” Apple spokeswoman Lisa Byrne said. “We’re going to regroup and review our operations. It is unlikely we will locate in Williamson County.”
Debate on the tax break for several weeks centered on Apple’s domestic partner policy.
“I cannot in good conscience extend that benefit to them (Apple) because of the conviction I have that same-sex partners is wrong,” Commissioner Greg Boatwright had said earlier.
After the vote, Charlie Culpepper, the mayor of Round Rock, which is the largest town in Williamson County, said he disagreed with the commissioners.
“I don’t agree with the idea of same-sex marriages, but government needs to stay out of business. Families need jobs,” he said.
I note a couple of key difference between Williamson County’s decision and the mayors of Boston and Chicago, but the overall principle seems to be the same.
1. The mayors in Boston and Chicago seemed to be wanting to deny Chick-Fil-A the right to set up shop in their towns entirely. In Williamson County, it was a decision not to give them a tax break. It’s mostly a cosmetic difference, since such an enormous tax break would constitute most of the incentive for a company to locate in a particular place. At any rate, Apple seems to be doing just fine in Austin, thanks.
2. In Boston and Chicago, the decision was motivated by disagreement with statements made by the company’s owner, essentially ratified by the company’s history of donations. This is, first and foremost, disagreement with the content of the company’s speech. With Apple, the Williamson County commissioners did not disagree with any particular statement of the company, but rather its employment practices. My spin would be that the commissioners objected to the fact that Apple didn’t discriminate against its gay and lesbian employees. I’m not sure if this is any more defensible than a disagreement over speech, but it is a distinction worth noting.
UPDATE 2: The ACLU of Illinois seems to agree with me (h/t Consumerist):
Alderman Moreno’s single-handed actions are wrong and dangerous. The ACLU of Illinois strongly supports full recognition and fair treatment for LGBT persons in Chicago and across Illinois. Indeed, our strong support for the LGBT community led us in May to file a lawsuit challenging the state ban in Illinois on the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. At the same time, we oppose using the power and authority of government to retaliate against those who express messages that are controversial or averse to the views of current office holders. In this instance, the Alderman is using his governmental authority to exclude a business from opening its doors simply because the corporate leadership has expressed anti-LGBT views in the public. This use of government authority simply is not permissible under our Constitution.
We also are concerned how this practice might be applied in the future. If the government is permitted to deny entrance into a Chicago community to Chik-Fil-A based on statements about public policy, then government elsewhere will have the power to exclude the expanding number of businesses who support fairness for LGBT people. Over the longer term, such government censorship would undermine the growing success of the LGBT rights movement.
Photo credit: ‘Chick FilA Chicken Sandwich’ by J. Reed (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.