Saturday, February 5, 2011

The problem with "Jesus chicken"

Those familiar with the Chik-Fil-A restaurant chain have known for quite a long time that the ownership is explicitly conservative Christian, which hasn't meant much for people who like to eat there except that they must remember it's closed on Sundays.  But recently it has come out (pardon the expression) that the company also contributes significantly to anti-gay causes.  The New York Times says:
Nicknamed “Jesus chicken” by jaded secular fans and embraced by Evangelical Christians, Chick-fil-A is among only a handful of large American companies with conservative religion built into its corporate ethos. But recently its ethos has run smack into the gay rights movement. A Pennsylvania outlet’s sponsorship of a February marriage seminar by one of that state’s most outspoken groups against homosexuality lit up gay blogs around the country. Students at some universities have also begun trying to get the chain removed from campuses. . . 
Over the years, the company’s operators, its WinShape Foundation and the Cathy family have given millions of dollars to a variety of causes and programs, including scholarships that require a pledge to follow Christian values, a string of Christian-based foster homes and groups working to defeat same-sex marriage initiatives.
Hence a certain amount of outcry from gay rights groups. has created a petition asking Chik-Fil-A to stop funding anti-gay groups such as Focus on the Family which has so far received over 25,000 signatures, and many individual gay rights supporters have decided not to patronize the restaurant chain any longer.  Alvin McEwen writes at Pam's House Blend that "lgbts also have a right to decide where NOT to spend our money. Furthermore we and our allies have a right to make a stink in regards to a company who wants us to buy its product, but not afford us respect."

In other words, a boycott. It's a time-honored concept-- a way for people to express their disagreement with the ethics of a company by refusing to do business with it.  Otherwise known as "voting with your wallet."  The idea is that financial support for an institution enables it and therefore can be construed as an endorsement of its policies, therefore revoking such support while saying "Hey everybody!  I'm revoking my support!" means that you've both ceased enabling that institution and attempted to make others aware of your reasons and encourage them to do the same.  It's a legal and peaceful way of making your views known.  Right?

Not to Michelle Malkin, apparently.  In these efforts the conservative columnist sees an "ugly war" waged by a "left wing mob":
Progressive groups are gloating over Chick-fil-A's public relations troubles exacerbated by the nation's politicized paper of record. This is not because they care about winning hearts and minds over gay rights or marriage policy, but because their core objective is to marginalize political opponents and chill Christian philanthropy and activism. The fearsome "muscle flexing" isn't being done by innocent job-creators selling chicken sandwiches and waffle fries. It's being done by the hysterical bullies trying to drive them off of college grounds and out of their neighborhoods in the name of "human rights."
Gosh, you'd think that people were crowding the streets screaming and trying to use the law to prevent Chik-Fil-A from erecting a new establishment purely out of objections to its ideology!  Oh wait, that's what people did in reaction to the proposed so-called "Ground Zero Mosque."  What's happening in this case is an objection to ideology, yes, but not just that.  It's an objection to political efforts on behalf of that ideology to oppose equal rights for a segment of the American population.  And that objection is not taking place through violent means or legal enforcement-- it's taking the form of voluntary boycotts, and student efforts to encourage their universities to stop using Chik-Fil-A as a vendor.  Essentially, they are asking universities to participate in the boycott as well.

During the protests in New York at Cordoba House, many of us were asking conservatives who opposed the Islamic community center why they oppose the property rights of the building's owners.  Now as gay rights advocates are boycotting Chik-Fil-A, I would ask Michelle Malkin why she doesn't support the right of individuals to do business with whom they please.  It's one thing to say that while boycotts in general are fine, this one in particular is misguided and inappropriate because of x, y, and z.  Then we could have a discussion on the merits of x, y, and z and would probably still disagree, but the basic understanding that everyone has a right to speak their mind both verbally and with their wallets would be there.

But that's not what she wants to do.  The objections Malkin is making could be applied just as easily to any boycott by conservatives of liberal businesses.  The next time an organization like the American Family Association declares that it will boycott a automobile manufacturer or food producer for so much as advertising in a gay-friendly way, I wonder if she will call them "hysterical bullies," or instead support them in speaking out against the fearsome left wing mob of...people who are okay with the idea that there are gays who want to do things like drive cars and eat soup.

Trying to decide who do business with can be tricky for people who care about the political involvement of companies and corporations (and trust, they will go on being involved in politics whether we care or not).  The most important part of minimizing that difficulty is freedom of expression.  We have to be able to find out, to research, to exchange ideas, to act, to let others know of our actions, and to hear about theirs.   The way to influence an entity whose primary concern is its profit margin is indisputably through our business choices-- it's the only power we as individuals have, which makes it sacred in a way.  It shouldn't be treated lightly, and it should never be denied.

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