Joshua L. Jones, Athens Banner-Herald
In this Oct. 30, 2018 file photo, Athens newest Chick-fil-A signage is set to open in downtown, Athens, Ga.

The San Antonio City Council could have voted to exclude Chick-fil-A from airport building plans for a myriad of reasons — concerns over revenue, lack of general appeal or because travelers deserve better breakfast offerings, to name a few hypotheticals. But to do so over the religious inclinations of its owner is antithetical to the tolerance America needs right now.

It could also be illegal, says Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general who’s now investigating whether the city council decision violates the Constitution’s protections of religious liberty.

The council voted last week to amend plans for the San Antonio International Airport, which originally arranged to have eight fast food stores, including the popular chicken restaurant, set up shop in its Terminal A.

The change came after one council member said he could not support a company with “a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior.”

Two important distinctions should be made, the first of which separates the franchise from its owners. Chick-fil-A has no policy to turn away LGBT customers or in any way discriminate against its patrons. CEO Dan Cathy, on the other hand, has used the company’s charitable arm to give large sums of money to organizations that opposed same-sex marriage, doing so out of sincere religious beliefs.

He should be as welcome as any American to act on his beliefs and to build a culture designed “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A,” as the company’s corporate purpose states.

The second distinction is that being pro-religion does not automatically make someone anti-LGBT. The more the country blurs that line, the less likely it is to find the compromises that will truly guarantee fairness for all.

It could also lead to a slippery slope of religious discrimination. City councils have already used zoning laws, for instance, to hinder the construction of a new church, synagogue or mosque. Federal law is supposed to solve the issue, but it often means a lengthy and expensive legal process that burdens the faith group involved.

Lawmakers will only face more opportunities to correlate anti-discrimination and religious liberty laws, and the arguments for each deserve more nuanced understanding than they’ve been given.

" Lawmakers will only face more opportunities to correlate anti-discrimination and religious liberty laws, and the arguments for each deserve more nuanced understanding than they’ve been given. "

Another concern brought up by the mayor of San Antonio is that the city would lose revenues because Chick-fil-A chooses to close on Sundays. That argument doesn’t hold up. Chick-fil-A makes more money per restaurant than any other fast-food company, even while operating six days a week, according to QSR Magazine. And certainly its employees appreciate a free Sunday to do as they please.

90 comments on this story

We affirm the constitutional right for everyone to live according to their beliefs. That right applies to individuals who donate to religious charities, just as it does to those who boycott a restaurant because they disagree with its owner. It is inappropriate, however, for a city government to sidestep legal protections.

There will be no easy solution to ease traffic at the intersection of religion and LGBT rights, but tolerance, respect and understanding must be present for the best ideas to move forward.