Why an Alderman Blocking Chick-fil-A is Bad

From the Trib:

Ald.Proco “Joe” Moreno announced this week that he will block Chick-fil-A’s effort to build its second Chicago store, which would be in the Logan Square neighborhood, following company President Dan Cathy’s remarks last week that he was “guilty as charged” for supporting the biblical definition of marriage as between a man and woman.

 

“If you are discriminating against a segment of the community, I don’t want you in the 1st Ward,” Moreno told the Tribune on Tuesday.

Moreno stated his position in strong terms, referring to Cathy’s “bigoted, homophobic comments” in a proposed opinion page piece that an aide also sent to Tribune reporters. “Because of this man’s ignorance, I will now be denying Chick-fil-A’s permit to open a restaurant in the 1st Ward.”

 

The alderman has the ideological support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

 

“Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values,” the mayor said in a statement when asked about Moreno’s decision. “They disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents. This would be a bad investment, since it would be empty.”

I know – it’s hard not to say “Damn straight. Take that, Chick-fil-A.” But even if you agree – as I do – with Ald. Moreno’s opinion that the President of Chick-fil-A’s comments/position are bigoted, denying businesses the right to operate based on the speech or beliefs of its owner(s) is a scary prospect. Setting aside for a moment the issues concerning speech, you have to – have to – remember that if you are giving an officeholder you agree with the power to do X, you are also giving it to officeholders you disagree with. In this instance, it opens the door for someone to block a business that is gay-friendly, or that sells Halal products, or that doesn’t require its employees to speak English, or anything else that could be nudged under the limitless umbrella that is “values.”

Now, about that First Amendment. Here’s the Volokh Conspiracy (bold mine):

But denying a private business permits because of such speech by its owner is a blatant First Amendment violation. Even when it comes to government contracting — where the government is choosing how to spend government money — the government generally may not discriminate based on the contractor’s speech, see Board of County Commissioners v. Umbehr (1996). It is even clearer that the government may not make decisions about how people will be allowed to use their own property based on the speaker’s past speech.

And this is so even if there is no statutory right to a particular kind of building permit (and I don’t know what the rule is under Illinois law). Even if the government may deny permits to people based on various reasons, it may not deny permits to people based on their exercise of his First Amendment rights. It doesn’t matter if the applicant expresses speech that doesn’t share the government officials’ values, or even the values of the majority of local citizens. It doesn’t matter if the applicant’s speech is seen as “disrespect[ful]” of certain groups. The First Amendment generally protects people’s rights to express such views without worrying that the government will deny them business permits as a result. That’s basic First Amendment law — but Alderman Moreno, Mayor Menino, and, apparently, Mayor Emanuel (if his statement is quoted in context), seem to either not know or not care about the law.

Granted, Chick-fil-A has not technically purchased the land on North Elston yet, but this is hair-splitting. By protecting speech that is controversial and noxious, we protect speech that is controversial and fruitful. It’s the only way. At risk of a real-life invocation of Godwin’s Law, the talk of “Chicago values” reminded me of a similar instance of needing to protect awful opinions: the Nazi march in Skokie – clearly, it’d be hard to think of a group with values less aligned with the values of the (mostly Jewish) citizens of Skokie than the Nazi Party of America. But the courts agreed they had the right to assemble there (even though they ultimately didn’t – at the last minute they went back to Chicago).

At the time, the residents of Skokie had little recourse but to ignore them, or to stage a counter-protest (in the long term, however, they opened the excellent Illinois Holocaust Museum, a facility which strives to fight hate through education, and one which you should absolutely visit). Fortunately, you, the Chicago consumer, have another, much more effective recourse that would be available to you as soon as this (or any) Chick-fil-A opens: don’t buy their stuff.

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One thought on “Why an Alderman Blocking Chick-fil-A is Bad

  1. Pingback: Is This Russia? Part IV | pro se

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