Last month, the San Antonio City Council voted to exclude Chick-fil-A from the city’s airport. On Wednesday, the religious freedom law firm First Liberty launched an investigation into the decision, demanding the release of related documents.
District 1 Councilman Robert Treviño led the effort, arguing that “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.” Councilman Manny Pelaez added, “I want the first thing [a visitor to] see is a San Antonio that is welcoming and that they not see…a symbol of hate.”
“What San Antonio government officials did was so blatantly unconstitutional that First Liberty thinks everyone should know what happened and any legal action that can take place should,” Keisha Russell, associate council at First Liberty, told PJ Media on Wednesday. She argued that these “public statements are enough to show that they were religiously discriminating against Chick-fil-A. It’s so blatant and so brazen.”
The decision came shortly after a ThinkProgress article blasting Chick-fil-A for donating to the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson home (which Chick-fil-A no longer supports). These Christian organizations stand by the Bible’s teaching on sexuality, that sex is only acceptable in marriage and marriage is between one man and one woman. Chick-fil-A used to support Christian nonprofits like the Family Research Council, but stopped doing so after the original controversy in 2012.
Russell presented at least six ways the San Antonio decision was unconstitutional.
The city council engaged in “viewpoint discrimination because the government disagrees with Chick-fil-A’s Christian viewpoints.” The decision also involved “unequal treatment,” since “they’re only treating Chick-fil-A this way, and they’re not doing it to anyone else.”
“It’s blatant religious hostility,” Russell argued. “The government is supposed to be neutral,” but the city council clearly targeted Chick-fil-A for its Christian beliefs. In Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018), the Supreme Court ruled that this kind of religious hostility violates the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion.
The First Liberty lawyer also argued that the San Antonio decision involved “a denial of patronage on the basis of disfavored speech.”
Ironically, the city council also engaged in discrimination, the very claim that LGBT activists level against Christian organizations that operate on the basis of their beliefs on sexuality.
“The irony of the whole thing, that the government officials would accuse Chick-fil-A of being a symbol of hate or discriminating, but they don’t discriminate against anyone. It’s the government officials that are really breaking all of these laws,” she argued.
“San Antonio city officials are accepting federal grants,” Russell noted. “In order to accept federal grants, they have to agree not to discriminate on the basis of religion.”
Finally, the First Liberty lawyer argued that the city council “broke its own non-discrimination ordinances.”
“There’s really no justification here, because Chick-Fil-A serves everybody,” Russell noted.
San Antonio must face strong pushback because the government needs to learn this kind of behavior is unacceptable, she argued. “We don’t want the government to think that these kinds of actions are legal, and we certainly don’t want the American people to think that this is something that they should stand for.”
“I think it’s just about time that other people call this out for what it is, outright religious discrimination,” Russell said. She encouraged San Antonio citizens and Texas residents “to reach out to the San Antonio City Council” and follow updates on the legal action at FirstLiberty.org.
“You have this larger issue where you see the government choosing sides on issues where they are required to be neutral,” she warned. “In Masterpiece, the Supreme Court reiterated the basic principle of First Amendment jurisprudence that the government is not allowed to be hostile to religion. In Colorado, you had the hostile statements against Jack Phillips and his beliefs, and in San Antonio, you have similar statements.”
Russell said First Liberty will pursue legal action against the city, depending on what they find in the documents.
“Historically, Chick-fil-A stays away from these situations. In most cases, they choose not to fight, but maybe some of us can fight for them,” she said.
On Wednesday, Texas Values is holding a rally for Chick-fil-A in front of the Texas Capitol. While governments like the San Antonio City Council attack the fine chicken establishment, a grassroots movement is rising to support it.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.