(Photo: AP Images / Chick-fil-A, Inc.)
The nation's largest evangelical organization, representing more than 45,000 churches, called foul on government leaders who displayed "evident discrimination" against Christian-owned Chick-fil-A by threatening to bar the business from expanding in their cities because of the owner's personal views on marriage.
"Individuals have the right to decide whether or not to 'eat mor chikin.' But no government leader should restrict a business or organization from expanding to their district based on the personal or political views of the owners," said National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson in a statement Monday. "Such evident discrimination and attempts to marginalize those with religious values have no place in American democracy."
The NAE joins former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and evangelist Billy Graham in defending the restaurant chain and its president Dan Cathy, who in recent interviews stated his support for the traditional family unit.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Chicago Mayor and former White House Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emanuel, and a Chicago alderman had all swiftly denounced Cathy's comments as discrimination against part of their city's population, and stated that they would not welcome Chick-fil-A to their cities.
But surprisingly, the American Civil Liberties Union, known to be liberal, defended Chick-fil-A against threats by the elected officials.
"The government can regulate discrimination in employment or against customers, but what the government cannot do is to punish someone for their words," Adam Schwartz, senior attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, told Fox News. "When an alderman refuses to allow a business to open because its owner has expressed a viewpoint the government disagrees with, the government is practicing viewpoint discrimination."
Similarly, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended Chick-fil-A's right to do business in his city and any other city in the U.S.
"I disagree with them really strongly on this one," Bloomberg said during an appearance on the John Gambling radio show. "You can't have a test for what the owners' personal views are before you decide to give a permit to do something in the city. You really don't want to ask political beliefs or religious beliefs before you issue a permit. That's just not government's job."
The NAE says it is committed to opposing government interference with the integrity of the family and "innovations such as same-sex 'marriage.'" It also affirms the principles of religious freedom and liberty of conscience.
"If Chick-fil-A is not welcome for embracing traditional marriage, then are Chicago Mayor Emanuel and others saying that evangelicals, Catholics and Mormons aren't welcome either?" Anderson asked.
Huckabee is calling on people to support Chick-fil-A this Wednesday, Aug. 1, by eating at one of its locations. So far, some 480,000 people have confirmed they are going.