Texas AG investigating potential discrimination against Chick-fil-A

Chick fil A CreditJonathan Weiss  Shutterstock Chick-fil-A. |  Jonathan Weiss / Shutterstock.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is investigating the San Antonio City Council for potential First Amendment violations. The council voted last week to disinvite Chick-fil-A from opening a store in the city-owned airport based on the religious beliefs of Chick-fil-A's executives.

San Antonio Councilman Roberto Treviño on March 21 offered an amendment to a contract with a concessions company at the San Antonio International Airport that removed the nationwide chain of chicken restaurants from the plans, stating that he objected to the company's "history of donating to organizations that oppose LGBTQ rights," according to the San Antonio Express News.

Paxton announced March 28 that he had sent a letter informing the mayor and city council members that he is opening an investigation into the council's decision.

"The City of San Antonio's decision to exclude Chick-fil-A based on the religious beliefs associated with the company and its owners is the opposite of tolerance," Paxton said in his statement.

"It's discriminatory, and not only out of step with Texas values, but inconsistent with the Constitution and Texas law."

Paxton says he also requested, by separate letter, that United States Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao open an investigation into the City of San Antonio's potential violation of federal law and Transportation Department regulations.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio reportedly sided with Councilman Treviño in opposing Chick-fil-A, but argued that the chicken restaurant should be excluded because, in part, the chain is closed on Sundays and it is not a local restaurant, the San Antonio Express News reports.

One San Antonio councilman, Greg Brockhouse, sent a letter to Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy on March 26 apologizing for the decision, saying that "in spite of this decision, San Antonio is a welcoming City that values diversity, faith, and inclusivity," and noting that Chick-fil-A "employs and serves everyone, without prejudice, discrimination, or hate."

In a separate, similar case, a concessionaire at Buffalo Niagara International Airport in New York canceled plans to build a new Chick-fil-A franchise yesterday after previously announcing that Chick-fil-A would anchor a new restaurant area there.

Assemblyman Sean Ryan was quoted as saying in the Buffalo News that "a publicly financed facility...is not the appropriate venue for a Chick-fil-A restaurant."

Though Chick-fil-A is an equal opportunity employer, controversy over its supposed LGBT opposition stems from the organization's financial support, through two nonprofit arms, for a number of Christian charitable organizations, several of which publicly affirm support for the Christian view of marriage.

Some of the largest beneficiaries of Chick-fil-A's donations in the past few years have been highlighted and branded "anti-gay" by LGBT advocacy groups such as the Human Rights Campaign.

Chick-fil-A operates two nonprofit organizations- the Chick-Fil-A foundation and the WinShape Foundation- through which it distributes donations and grants. In fiscal year 2017, Chick-fil-A distributed $9.9 million in donations through the Chick-fil-A foundation, or less than 0.1 percent of the company's $9 billion annual revenue.

The WinShape Foundation primarily funds marriage retreats as well as youth camps and foster homes, according to tax documents.

According to the Chick-fil-A Foundation's 990 tax form for fiscal year 2016, the Georgia-based nonprofit donated to more than 250 organizations across the country, including the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta, a Georgia refugee support group, and a Georgia Catholic high school.

Most of the groups receiving donations are focused on community, family, or youth support, and much of their work is nonpolitical in nature.

The donations range from just $125 to an Atlanta organization that helps families transition out of homelessness, to nearly $1.6 million donated to various chapters of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) in 2017.

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FCA is a Kansas City, Missouri-based Christian organization that organizes sports camps and Bible studies for young athletes. FCA's Statement of Faith, among other Scripture-based tenets, affirms the Christian view of marriage.

"God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman," it reads.

"We believe that God created all human beings in His image. Therefore, we believe that human life is sacred from conception to its natural end; that we must honor the physical and spiritual needs of all people; following Christ's example, we believe that every person should be treated with love, dignity and respect," the statement continues.

Another oft-cited "anti-LGBT" organization is the Salvation Army, a Christian organization deicated to helping the poor, which recieved $150,000 from Chick-fil-A in 2017, making it possible to provide Christmas gifts to "11,000 children in need throughout the Atlanta area," Chick-fil-A says.

"To suggest that our efforts in supporting these organizations was focused on suppressing a group of people is misleading and inaccurate," the company has stated.

"It is well-known that our Founder S. Truett Cathy used biblical principles to guide our business in its formative stages, and that we still uphold those same principles today."

Media and activist scrutiny of Chick-fil-A heated up in 2012, when company president and chief operating officer Dan Cathy, an outspoken Christian and son of the late founder, gave an interview to the Baptist Press and expressed his support for a traditional view of marriage, based on his Christian faith.

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"We are very much supportive of the family - the biblical definition of the family unit," Cathy told the Baptist Press.

"We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that," Cathy said.

The Chick-fil-A Foundation did not respond to CNA's media request by press time.

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