By now, I'm sure you've heard the whole Chick-Fil-A controversy as it relates to the company being denied a Chicago business license because of some comments made by it's president regarding his opposition to gay marriage. It seems as if most of the surrounding debate revolves around gay marriage itself. Understandably, there are strong feelings and strong opinions on both sides of the marriage debate. Marriage is the one thing that straddles the lines of church and state. It's the only church sacrament recognized by the state and the only state institution initiated in a church. Some see gay marriage as a religious issue, some see it as a civil rights issue. What concerns me on this one, though, is not the issue of gay marriage (that's an issue for another debate) but the government's ability to punish someone for their opinion; be it a religious opinion or a political one.
One of the powers of local government is the ability to decide who gets a business license. Typically, there are zoning regulations that dictate what kinds of businesses can be placed in a particular area. There are other rules that pertain to the appearance of the building, the number of parking spaces available and the hours of operation. Incoming businesses are often required to add turning lanes and other physical changes to the infrastructure. Decisions are made with respect to how a new business would fit in with the rest of the area and what kinds of burdens would be placed on the surrounding businesses and residents. This makes sense. Even the most pro-business Republican has to appreciate not waking up to find a nuclear testing facility next door.What should never be a factor is the personal, religious or political opinion of the company's leadership. To some in the city, the decision by Alderman Moreno seems like an easy one. To me, it sounds like a dangerous one. It has nothing to do with gay marriage, it has everything to do with freedom of speech; and in this case, freedom of religion, too.
I think that it is very dangerous for anyone in government to use their power to punish someone for stating an opinion. Remember, what the CEO of Chick-Fil-A did was state his religious opinion of same sex marriage to a religious publication. If he had practiced discrimination against gays, or anyone else for that matter, it would be a different story. There has never been any indication that Chick-Fil-A has done that.In following some of the comments on the Patch and other media, I see where some folks question whether or not people who are affiliated with "hate groups" should be denied a business license. First, who gets to decide what a hate group is? Sure, you have the obvious one; the Klan, Nazis, etc. But what if a local politician sees conservatives as being a hate group? Some do; some also see liberals as godless baby killers, too. Should that be a disqualifier for a business license?
Here's the thing, if you support what Alderman Moreno did, than you would have to support a conservative politician denying a business license to a company whose president supports gay marriage. Or abortion or gun control or Obamacare. You can't pick and chose who has free speech and who doesn't.
I would rather let the government make their decisions on zoning and other objective factors. If objectionable people want business licenses, give it to them and let the people decide if they want to patronize those businesses. If proponents of same sex marriage chose not to eat at Chick-Fil-A, that's there right.
For over 200 years, people fought and died so that we can keep our freedoms and that includes free speech. Please don't chicken out on that!