Dan Cathy could have saved his company, Chick-Fil-A, a lot of trouble. All he had to do was keep his views about family to himself.
Instead, he answered a question honestly. In a recent media interview, the company's president and COO said what he believes and why he believes it. But his politically incorrect views are intolerable, judging from the anger of many on the left, including several big-city officials who are dead-set against his views.
In the interview, Cathy said he is "very much supportive of the family, the biblical definition of the family unit." Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel took exception: "What the COO has said as it relates to gay marriage and gay couples is not what I believe. But more importantly, it's not what the people of the city of Chicago believe."
Now, spirited debates about controversial topics are an American tradition. But it didn't stop there. The politicians began threatening to block Chick-Fil-A's plans to expand in their cities.
In a letter to Chick-Fil-A, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino wrote: "I was angry to learn, on the heels of your prejudiced statements, about your search for a site to locate in Boston. There is no place for discrimination on Boston's Freedom Trail, and no place for your company alongside it."
Joe Moreno, a Chicago alderman, told Chick-Fil-A to forget about its plans to build a second store in the Windy City: "I'm not gonna sit on the sidelines and allow them to come in when I know in my heart that they believe in discriminating against gay people."
In Philadelphia, meanwhile, city councilman James Kenney told Dan Cathy to "take a hike and take your intolerance with you." He also said he plans to introduce a resolution condemning Chick-Fil-A at the next council meeting.
At this point, we've moved well beyond debate. It's a free-speech issue now.
These officials did not merely express an opposite point of view. They threatened to use their political power to punish a man, and those who work for him, for saying something they disagree with. The message this sent is crystal-clear -- and chilling: Conform to the "accepted" view, or else.
Emmanuel and company spoke in breathless tones about how offensive Cathy's beliefs are. Yet what could be more offensive than what they're trying to do? What could be more, yes, discriminatory than using the power of the state to punish private viewpoints under the guise of standing up against "discrimination"?
"You can't have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population," Menino said. But the company does no such thing. Chick-Fil-A hires employees and serves customers without regard to sexual orientation. The head of the company simply expressed his privately held view on the issue of family.
And it's not just talk. The Cathy family has been a model of corporate responsibility, helping tackle social problems and strengthen civil society. For years, they've taken concrete steps to strengthen families through the programs of its WinShape Foundation. Founded in 1984 by S. Truett Cathy, WinShape supports college scholarships, foster care and international ministries. It works hard to strengthen marriage, offering counseling and help for couples in crisis, saving marriages that had been on the brink of divorce.
WinShape also works with other like-minded groups that seek to strengthen marriage in America. "It's the kind of work that will take decades -- even generations," writes Jennifer Marshall, director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation. "And it's not the stuff of headlines, which is why many Americans probably have no idea this critical effort is under way."
What does make the headlines? False and outrageous charges of discrimination from opportunistic politicians with little respect for free-speech rights.
"We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles," Cathy added in the interview that led to the controversy.
After hearing the way he's been treated since then, you have to wonder: Do we, in fact, live in such a country anymore?
Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org).