Monday, September 15, 2014

Chick-fil-A is not a victim of anything other than Christianism

Image credit: Human Rights Campaign
The owners of Chick-fil-A, the Cathy family, are entitled to their religious beliefs. They are also entitled to impose those beliefs on the company that they own (to the extent permitted by law) but doing so comes with risks and rewards. Opposing marriage equality attracts some customers and repels others. It goes both ways. Christian groups have been known to organize boycotts of companies that advance LGBT equality. Most recently Target has been a target.

The headline that has been circulating on conservative Christian websites is “School Bans ‘Offensive’ Chick-fil-A Sandwiches.” Oh poor Chick-fil-A! It is the school that is at fault — of course. If challenged, the folks at CFA will respond with “we treat everyone with courtesy and dignity.” Translation: “We'll take anyone's money.”

Chick-fil-A is a company worth many billions of dollars. With more than 1,200 locations, the company and its franchisees employ tens of thousands of people. Where are the gay employees pushing back against the bad publicity? Is there even a single openly LGBT employee at CFA's corporate headquarters? Is there a single openly LGBT manager anywhere in the system?

Openly gay employees may not exist. Many organizations in the fast-food sector are proud of corporate diversity. They post their policies  (Starbucks) demonstrating their commitment (McD) to equal employment opportunity. Their inclusiveness applies to sexual orientation and gender identity. The standards apply system-wide, to corporate and franchise operations. They also apply to franchise opportunities. But not Chick-fil-A.

CFA complies only with state and local anti-discrimination ordinances. Not only are LGBT people discriminated against but women are reportedly second-class employees. The company also asks people who apply for a franchise to disclose marital status, number of dependents and involvement in “community, civic, social, church and professional organizations.” In other words their stores are owned by people who have values comparable to the Cathy family. According to Forbes, about seven years ago:
Those who do say they like the member-of-the-club feel that goes along with working with Chick-fil-A. “It is very difficult to get in, but once you’re in, you’re in for life,” says Donald Elam, a Chick-fil-A franchisee in Superstition Springs, Ariz.: “I tell all my people, ‘I’m not working for Chick-fil-A; I’m working for the Lord.’”
That must be very comforting to Jewish and Muslim employees. Wait. Do they even have any Jewish or Muslim employees anywhere in the system? Forbes also reported that the vetting process for prospective employees includes more than a dozen interviews (some lasting as long as five hours) and can take more than a year. Do they make the process so exhaustive that they can find a supposedly non-discriminatory reason not to hire someone when, in fact, they are violating the law? Are they waiting for someone to slip and voluntarily disclose information revealing their sexuality or religious beliefs? There is no rational, legitimate purpose to creating that many obstacles to employment. Indeed, the best candidates, those with multiple opportunities, are likely to go elsewhere.

Again, where is the push-back from LGBT employees of Chick-fil-A?

The company has been sued many times for employment discrimination. That comes with the territory. However, this particular company claims to operate under biblical principles which are probably discriminatory per se. Again, the Cathys have a right to their religious beliefs. Back in the late 1940's, when CFA was founded, foisting those beliefs on employees would have met little resistance — particularly in the South (the company is now headquartered in Atlanta).

Back in the 1950's society also accepted Jim Crow and things like restricted hotels and restrictive covenants on property transfers. Throughout the United States non-Christians were routinely, and openly, denied employment opportunities. Just how much has Chick-fil-A changed over the last 50 years while the Old Testament has stayed the same?

Conservative Christians seem to have a collective digestive problem. The very fact that gay people exist causes them to universally allege that “they are shoving their sexual preferences down our throats.” The claim is preposterous.

Compare that to Chick-fil-A. They have made it perfectly clear that they operate under biblical principles. If they are not providing equal opportunity then, indeed, their actions are harmful to others.  Imagine someone who works at CFA for years and is discovered to be gay.  Even where illegal they have years of practice finding “cause” for termination. Evading anti-discrimination laws is probably an art form at CFA.

Chick-fil-A serves very unhealthy sandwiches. It seems probable that they provide a toxic work environment as well. Moreover, this is a company with a literalist conservative Christian belief. A company! That is bound to cause some controversy.

If Chick-fil-A is a victim it is of their own design. Ownership is not content to simply practice their religion as they choose. They insist on workplace conformity. They want employees to embrace a certain set of religious beliefs.

Many people find the Cathy's religious beliefs repugnant. They are not only discriminatory against gays but they demean women. There is an inherent denigration of non-Christians as well. So if some school and its students decide that Chick-fil-A is not a good corporate citizen they have a great deal of justification. Conservative Christians seem incapable of introspection but some is surely needed.  Perhaps they should be listening rather than framing Chick-fil-A as nailed to a cross.

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