"We write today to show support for the manner in which you have defended your values and reputation in the face of unfair and malicious criticism," the letter, originated by Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R.-Miss., and co-signed by 16 other Republican representatives, reads. "... We are bewildered by those who would take offense at your values and would block the expansion of your business into their communities. We welcome Chick-fil-A's investment in our districts. The example of quality, hard work, and charity demonstrated by Chick-fil-A is one that others who, when faced with opposing views, resort to hate would do well to emulate."
The tone of the letter stands in stark contrast to the reaction by some political leaders in light of Cathy's comments supporting the biblical definition of marriage. The mayors of Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., all have made comments critical of the restaurant, implying or saying the company is not welcome in their cities. The mayors of Boston and Chicago backed off their original statements. Attorneys from across the spectrum, though, say a city cannot legally block a restaurant because of the company president's beliefs.
On Wednesday (Aug. 1) thousands of Chick-fil-A supporters packed the company's 1,600 restaurants, with lines stretching outside the doors and often topping 100. In some locations, it took well over an hour just to place an order. The drive-through lines often backed up traffic on main roads, and police sometimes were called in to help direct cars.
Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A's executive vice president for marketing, said in an Aug. 2 statement at the company's website, "We are very grateful and humbled by the incredible turnout of loyal Chick-fil-A customers on August 1 at Chick-fil-A restaurants around the country."
Robinson said Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day "was not a company promotion; it was initiated by others," but he acknowledged, "While we don't release exact sales numbers, it was an unprecedented day."
"We congratulate local Chick-fil-A Owner/Operators and their team members for striving to serve each and every customer with genuine hospitality," Robinson said. "The Chick-fil-A culture and 66-year-old service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect -- regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender."
The U.S. representatives, in their letter to Chick-fil-A, said the company "represents an American success story."
"What began in 1946 as a small diner in Hapeville, Georgia, has grown into one of the most flourishing quick-service restaurants in the country. While the business has expanded, Chick-fil-a has remained faithful to the family values on which it was founded. Your company has displayed dedication to your employees by offering them college scholarships and ensuring they have the opportunity to worship on Sundays, commitment to communities through your philanthropic foundation, and an emphasis on customer service as evidenced by your numerous awards and continued growth in sales."
The representatives who co-signed the letter are Spencer Bachus, Ala.; Marsha Blackburn, Tenn.; Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey and Lynn Westmoreland, Ga.; Dan Burton, Ind.; Renee Ellmers and Walter Jones of N.C.; Randy Forbes and Frank Wolf, Va.; Gregg Harper, Miss.; Andy Harris, Md.; Vicky Hartzler, Mo.; Jeff Landry, La.; Donald Manzullo, Ill.; and Jeff Miller, Fla.
Speaking for himself, Nunnelee in a press release called the criticism of Chick-fil-A "appalling."
"Elected officials that are now threatening to block new Chick-fil-A restaurants in their cities are acting in a manner that is un-American," Nunnelee said. "Demanding ideological conformity in order to be allowed to run your business is a dangerous precedent. It is like something that would happen in Soviet Russia. Clearly, a lot of people who like to fashion themselves as open minded and tolerant are actually the most intolerant folks around if you don't agree with them."
The company issued a statement July 19 saying that it does not discriminate. It said "going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena" and that its tradition is "to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect -- regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender." It also noted that it has applied "biblically-based principles" to business management and will continue to do so.
Nunnelee, Bachus, Broun, Forbes, Harper and Westmoreland all are members of Southern Baptist churches. Cathy's church, New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga., also is Southern Baptist.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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