Daniel Nesbitt ’22
On Thursday, March 21st, the City Council of San Antonio voted 6-4 to prevent Chick-fil-A from opening a store simply due to the restaurant’s constitutionally protected donation and support of two Christian organizations. This is a clear and blatant violation of the First Amendment.
According to USA Today, the city council approved a seven year concessions agreement with a travel retailer/restaurateur by the name of Paradies Lagardère for Terminal A of the San Antonio Airport. Although Chick-fil-A was originally in the plans, the council amended the agreement to exclude the restaurant explicitly citing concerns with Chick-fil-A’s LGBTQ record. The council’s vote came after Think Progress, a news site dedicated to providing reporting and analysis from a progressive perspective, reported that the restaurant chain donated $1.6 million to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, $150,000 to the Salvation Army, and $6,000 to the Paul Anderson Youth Home. For some reason, Think Progress treats any donation to a traditional Christian ministry as a grave evil.
Following the Council’s decision, councilman Robert Treviño released the following statement: “With this decision, the City Council reaffirmed the work our city has done to become a champion of equality and inclusion. San Antonio is a city full of compassion, and we do not have room in our public facilities for a business with a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior…Everyone has a place here, and everyone should feel welcome when they walk through our airport. I look forward to the announcement of a suitable replacement by Paradies.”
David French writes in the National Review, “This is Orwellian nonsense.” The Council’s action does not stem from the alleged mistreatment or abuse of LGBTQ customers/employees, but rather from the idea that airport commuters will somehow feel unwelcome due to the charitable donations of one of the airport’s vendors. This idea is ludicrous and untenable in our modern, pluralistic society. Apple donating to the Democratic party and to Democratic candidates does not make me feel unwelcome in an Apple store. In-n-Out donating to the Republican Party does not make Californians feel unwelcome when consuming their delicious burgers. As French asks, “Should we only feel ‘welcome’ in spaces where we know the owners share our faith?”
Because the action was taken against Chick-fil-A by the government and not a private organization, it is a clear instance of unconstitutional content-based discrimination on the part of the City Council. Should Chick-fil-A take legal action, they are certain to win with taxpayers bearing the cost due to the City Council’s viewpoint discrimination.
It is one thing for the state to take action against an employer for the violation of a constitutional statute such as Title VII or other nondiscrimination laws. However, it is another thing entirely for the state, on the basis of an employer’s constitutionally protected speech and charitable donations, to take action. Content neutrality is a fundamental aspect of First Amendment and freedom of speech jurisprudence. Put another way, the state does not have the power to determine what views are or are not acceptable in our society—the San Antonio City Council has wholly violated this important principle. The Council, through this action, gives the impression that the beliefs of Christian citizens and ministries are so objectionable that private organizations who support these beliefs ought to be punished.
David French sums up the situation perfectly: “Until the decision is reversed, San Antonio isn’t a ‘champion of equality and inclusion.’ It’s an instrument of censorship and bigotry.”