AUSTIN, Texas – Religious liberty advocates held "Save Chick-fil-A Day" at the Texas Capitol April 17 after the restaurant was banned from the San Antonio airport for donating to religious non-profits.
Religious freedom group Texas Values hosted the event in support of two bills before the Texas Legislature banning religious discrimination, weeks after the San Antonio City Council cited Chick-fil-A's religious outreach as the sole reason for blocking the franchise from the San Antonio International Airport.
"We need to capture this moment and make it clear once and for all that government is not allowed to discriminate based on religious beliefs and to pick winners and losers and ban stores from opening because of the religious beliefs of owners," Texas Values President Jonathan Saenz said in advance of the event.
"It had nothing to do with how they treated anybody in their store, or how they treated someone in their restaurant," Saenz said. "It's about their personal beliefs and a donation that was made to the Salvation Army."
Texas Values sponsored the event as the legislature held public hearings on House Bill 1035, dubbed the Free to Believe Act, which would provide freedom of conscience protections; and House Bill 3172, the First Amendment Defense Act, which would protect religious beliefs and moral convictions regarding marriage. Both bills are still in committee.
Southern Baptist pastor Danny Forshee, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) ethicist Cindy Asmussen attended the event which, according to its Facebook page, drew more than 500 supporters to the capitol in the course of the day.
Forshee, pastor of Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin and chairman of the SBTC executive board, said Texas faces a "sad day, really, when you think about somebody can be persecuted and discriminated against in the great state of Texas solely upon their religious beliefs.
"[Chick-fil-A CEO] Dan Cathy's heart is broken over this," Forshee said. "We stand behind Chick-fil-A and we stand behind Bro. Jonathan here. And [we're] just glad to be able to be one voice."
The council decision is the latest in a string of objections to Chick-fil-A community involvement, stemming from Cathy's 2012 statement that he supports a biblical definition of marriage that prohibits gay marriage.
First Liberty Institute and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton are investigating the San Antonio City Council for its decision. First Liberty has asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to investigate, charging the council with violating nondiscrimination laws as a federal grant recipient.
By a vote of 5-4, the San Antonio council refused April 18 to reconsider its March 21 vote that blocked Chick-fil-A from operating at the airport, with one councilman accusing the business of having a "legacy of hate" because it donates to charities considered to oppose LGBT rights. The council is among a growing number of groups in the U.S. to ban Chick-fil-A on similar accusations.
Cruz, sporting a Save Chick-fil-A sticker, said the council was making itself a worldwide laughing stock.
"What the San Antonio City Council is saying is Christians need not apply," Cruz said. "Those who take your faith seriously need not apply and indeed you're banned.
"This is about religious persecution," Cruz said. "This is about the fact that the leadership of Chick-fil-A are Christians and they don't hide from that fact. They're not apologizing. They're not embarrassed about their faith."
Chick-fil-A states as its purpose, "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." All chain locations are closed on Sundays and the family-owned business has repeatedly maintained that it does not discriminate against the LGBT community.
Chick-fil-A did not comment to Baptist Press by press time today, but according to Texas Values, Chick-fil-A was not involved in the event.
"This effort is not being launched by the Chick Fil-A company and no one from the company or family is involved in proposing or promoting it," Texas Values said at SaveChickfilA.com.
In corporate promotional material, Chick-fil-A lists 39 consecutive years of sales growth. The company was named "Best Franchise Brand" in 2018 by Airport Revenue News, and received a 2018 Glassdoor Employees' Choice Award as one of the best places to work.
Written by Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.