Chick-fil-A Emerges Triumphant Despite Political Battles

Chick-fil-A has had a difficult year. In March, liberal outlets slammed the restaurant chain's charitable foundation for funding Christian organizations "with a history of anti-LGBTQ discrimination." Then the San Antonio airport banned the restaurant for seven years and the Buffalo airport followed soon after. Yet in May and June, the tide turned rather decisively.

The FAA's Office of Civil Rights opened an investigation into the airport bans. Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) signed S.B. 1978, a law preventing Texas government actors from discriminating against religious groups or those who associate with them — a bill known as the "Save Chick-fil-A Bill."

Yet the biggest coup came this past week. According to a Nation Restaurant News study published Monday, Chick-fil-A was the fastest-growing restaurant chain in America over the past year. The chicken joint took third place among all U.S. restaurants in sales — with a whopping $10.46 billion.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Chick-fil-A's simple menu and its excellent customer service have propelled it into the top three. Some estimates suggest Chick-fil-A may surpass Starbucks, which took the number 2 slot with $20.49 billion in sales. Only McDonald's, with $38.52 billion in sales is safely out of reach.

There may be a political and even spiritual dimension to Chick-fil-A's success, however. The chicken joint is famously closed on Sundays and has a corporate mission to "glorify God." Conservative Americans flocked to the restaurant chain when controversy over LGBT issues broke out in 2012.

That year, CEO Dan Cathy said the U.S. was "inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and we say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage." This infuriated LGBT activists, who also discovered that the WinShape Foundation, a charitable organization founded in 1984 by Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, donated money to socially conservative charities such as Eagle Forum, Focus on the Family, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Family Research Council (FRC), Exodus International, and the Marriage & Family Legacy Fund.

Activists denounced this funding as contributions to "anti-gay groups," and indeed such organizations support the traditional Bible definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. These organizations have been demonized, with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) accusing FRC of being a "hate group" — an accusation that inspired a terrorist to attempt a mass shooting in 2012.

After a nationwide boycott — and a conservative rush to buy at Chick-fil-A called "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day," led by former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.) — the company apologized for its comments and the WinShape Foundation stopped funding the "anti-gay" organizations. In 2018, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was forced to apologize after eating Chick-fil-A during June, the designated LGBT Pride Month.

Earlier this year, liberal outlets continued to slam Chick-fil-A over donations to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army. As Vox noted, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes requires its employees to refrain from "homosexual acts," since the Bible clearly condemns such acts as sinful. The Salvation Army also upholds the biblical understanding of sexuality. It turned down $3.5 million in San Francisco city contracts due to requirements that city contractors provide spousal benefits to same-sex partners of employees.

Casting such stances on conscience as "anti-gay" or "anti-LGBT bigotry" is a growing trend on the left. The case of Christian baker Jack Phillips is illustrative. Phillips gladly serves all people who enter his shop, and will sell pastries to LGBT people without a second thought. Yet he routinely turns down requests for him to lend his artistic talents to create special cakes for various occasions he disagrees with, particularly the holiday of Halloween, which is often lucrative for bakers.

When a same-sex couple requested a custom cake for their wedding, Phillips refused due to his religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that he had discriminated against the couple on the basis of sexual orientation. Members of the commission compared Phillips' refusal to the abuse of Christianity in Nazi Germany, even though Phillips's own father liberated concentration camps.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Phillips, 7-2. Yet a transgender lawyer called to request a custom cake celebrating his gender transition, and Phillips again refused. The commission went after him again. The commission dropped this second case in March. The same transgender lawyer sued Phillips this month.

Of people like Phillips — who gladly serve LGBT people but will not use their artistic talent to endorse same-sex marriage or gender identity — LGBT megadonor Tim Gill said, "We're going to punish the wicked."

The continued attacks on Phillips and on Chick-fil-A are quite illustrative. If Chick-fil-A stops funding FRC and other groups, activists will fault it for funding the Salvation Army. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Jack Phillips, LGBT activists will find another way to target him.

Yet Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day in 2012 set a new record for the chain in 2012, and the chicken joint has emerged triumphant again this year. Despite controversy, the restaurant has a powerful business model, and the more religious among us might say God is rewarding its faithfulness. Perhaps it should keep funding Christian organizations despite the "anti-gay" branding.

Follow Tyler O'Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.