In the last few years, Chick-fil-A restaurants have been banned from campuses and airports. The campaign started in 2012 after public comments opposing same-sex marriage by Dan Cathy, the company’s CEO and the disclosure that that Chick-fil-A’s charitable arm, the S. Truett Cathy-operated WinShape Foundation, donated millions of dollars to organizations viewed as hostile to LGBT rights. As someone who supported same-sex marriage for decades as well as LGBT rights, I have voiced my concerns over free speech and free exercise in these campaigns. Now, Fox is reporting that the Federal Aviation Administration has ordered San Antonio to offer the popular eatery a lease at its airport after concluding that the city was punishing the company for the religious views of its management.
The City Council denied the fast-food operator a lease at the airport despite being one of the most popular eateries. Mayor Ron Nirenberg and five council members voted to approve the master-concessionaire contract with Paradies Lagardère, on the condition that it dropped Chick-fil-A from its restaurants. Four council members dissented and one abstained.
The company has argued that it has complied with federal discrimination and workplace laws and that these campaigns have raged after its CEO exercised his free speech rights in expressing his view of same sex marriage.
The FAA announced its investigation last May, after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sought the probe over a “potential breach of federal law.”
Once again, I strongly disagree with the views of Cathy. However, if the company is engaging in unlawful discrimination, it can be charged and held accountable. The campaigns on campuses are expressly linked to the controversy over the comments by Cathy. It was one of the earliest examples of the “cancel culture” and the intolerance for opposing views.
This is a rare move by the FAA and it will be interesting to see if San Antonio litigates this further. However, the problem is that the record is a poor one for the city given the statements of Nirenberg and others. The move was popular as retaliation against Cathy for his statements. That record will now be combined with the possible use of Chevron deference from an agency decision. San Antonio would be best served to give the lease and allow the market to address any consumer objections to the owners or management of the company.