More than 525,000 people have signed up on Facebook to take part in Wednesday's Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, an event that has no official ties to the company. It was launched about 10 days ago by radio host and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who wanted to support the restaurant in light of the pushback it has received after Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy made comments supporting the biblical definition of marriage. Some gay groups have called for a boycott, and the mayors of two major cities -- Boston and Chicago -- implied they wanted to block construction of new restaurants in their city, only to back down.
Although gay groups, some media members and a few politicians have turned the issue into a debate over gay marriage, Huckabee, speaking on his radio program Tuesday (July 31), said it's not. (More information on the event is available at www.ISupportChickFilA.com.)
"The whole thing has never been about whether you support or whether you oppose same-sex marriage. It's a much bigger issue than that," Huckabee said.
The issue, Huckabee said, is about free speech and religious liberty. Chick-fil-A's critics have participated in "hate speech and economic bullying," he said. The Chick-fil-A president's personal beliefs, Huckabee said, reflect the beliefs of many Americans.
"I just didn't know that people who are Christian, who have worldview, had been disenfranchised," Huckabee said.
Chick-fil-A, Huckabee noted, has not been accused of discriminating against its customers or employees.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a commentary for CNN.com, defending the company and saying the controversy is indicative of a larger issue.
"The controversy over Chick-fil-A is a clear sign that religious liberty is at risk and that this nation has reached the brink of tyrannical intolerance from at least some of our elected leaders," Mohler said.
Speaking of Chicago politicians who made comments opposing the company, Mohler asked, "Are they audacious enough to deliver that same message to the churches, mosques and synagogues of their city that also oppose same-sex marriage? What do they do with the fact that their own state does not allow same-sex marriages?
"This country is deeply divided over the issue of same-sex marriage, and the controversy over Chick-fil-A is an ominous sign that many of the proponents of same-sex marriage are quite willing to violate religious liberty and to use any and all means to silence and punish any individual or organization that holds the contrary view -- a view sustained by the voters in 29 states by constitutional amendments."
Fox News commentator Todd Starnes also spoke up for Chick-fil-A.
"There's something unsettling about the public flogging of Chick-fil-A," Starnes wrote on his blog July 31, targeting government officials who seem intent "on destroying a privately owned American company simply because of the owner's personal opinions. … Chick-fil-A's only crime is being a family-owned company that ascribes to the teachings of the Holy Bible -- a belief that marriage is a union between one man and one woman."
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.
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