LAWRENCE, Kan. (BP) — Previewing what could be the next front in the public debate over Chick-fil-A, a religious liberty organization has sent letters to five universities urging them to reject demands to boot the restaurant from campus and warning them that any such move would be unconstitutional.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) sent the letters to the five universities, making clear it was not representing Chick-fil-A. All five universities have seen calls or movements to remove the restaurant from campus in light of Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy’s affirmation of the biblical definition of marriage. Chick-fil-A opponents also have cited the company’s financial support of groups that support the traditional definition of marriage.
“Not only would discriminating against Chick-fil-A be a clear violation of the First Amendment and expose the University to legal liability, but it would undermine the very lessons of free speech and tolerance that the University seeks to teach to its student body,” the letters read. It was signed by attorneys David A. Cortman and J. Matthew Sharp. “Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys are available to discuss any questions you have and to provide assistance to the University in complying with its legal obligations under the Constitution.”
The University of Kansas, the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Louisville all have seen student and/or faculty-led efforts to remove Chick-fil-A restaurants from campus. At West Virginia University, a state gay group is urging school officials to remove the restaurant. At New York University, it is New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn who is urging the removal of the restaurant.
ADF sent officials at all five universities the letters, each of which number five pages in length.
“Mr. Cathy’s statement — which is an opinion shared by the majority of Americans — is no less protected than those made by business leaders from other companies who have expressed a different opinion upon the issue of same-sex ‘marriage,'” the letters read. “For example, Sergey Brin, President of Google, posted that Google would ‘publicly oppose’ Proposition 8. There is no question that companies like Chick-fil-A and Google have the First Amendment right to publicly speak on important social issues, including same-sex ‘marriage.'”
The letters add, “Chick-fil-A has a First Amendment right to express its opinion on the important issue of marriage. And the University is prohibited from taking any action against Chick-fil-A, including banning the company from campus, based upon its speech and its financial support for the biblical definition of marriage.”
The ADF letters note that there is no “evidence that Chick-fil-A engages in any discrimination against employees or customers based upon their sexual orientation.”
“Chick-fil-A publicly notes on its website that ‘The Chick-fil-A culture and 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 letters say.
ADF said it sent the letters “on behalf of students, faculty, and organizations who share the same religious beliefs as Chick-fil-A and who often face similar threats of religious discrimination.”
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).