Into the broiler: Chick-fil-A isn't losing its First Amendment rights

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As great blows for freedom go, it wasn't Rosa Parks taking her seat at the front of the bus or Martin Luther nailing his demands on the cathedral door, but some Americans lined up to eat chicken sandwiches on Wednesday to make a point.

That was their right, but Chick-fil-A "appreciation day" -- as sincere as it was -- nevertheless had a touch of the absurd. It has come to this in America: People become agitated over the separation of church and chicken.

Chick-fil-A is the fast-food company run on biblical principles. Its devoutly Christian owner Dan Cathy told the Baptist Press last month that the company, which closes on the sabbath in adherence to its views, supports "the biblical definition of the family unit." This had the effect of putting the company into the hottest broiler of the culture wars -- the issue of same-sex marriage -- but in America people can freely state their principles and act on them.

And other people can criticize them for it. That's how the First Amendment works. Those diners who came out last Wednesday in part because they thought that Chick-fil-A was being denied its First Amendment rights were wrong about that.

The First Amendment has nothing to do with it, except as an example of how it works. That amendment prohibits Congress from passing laws harmful to the free exercise of religion. But Congress hasn't. Those mayors around the country -- Pittsburgh's Luke Ravenstahl included -- who have suggested that the company is not welcome in their cities can't bar the company because of its principles.

Those who made a point Wednesday by eating chicken sandwiches were certainly supporting a company under fire and probably stating their opposition to gay marriage as well. We happen to think that no amount of defiant dining will in the long run defeat the growing recognition that gay people should be allowed to marry their loved ones as a matter of simple justice.

Chick-fil-A is already halfway there. The company's stated policy is to treat all customers with honor, dignity and respect. If Mr. Cathy could only extend that by concentrating on his business and leaving the morals to his customers, everybody would be better off.

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