Let’s make two things perfectly clear.
First, Chick-fil-A has every right to sell their chicken sandwiches.
Second, Chick-fil-A also has every right to support organizations that demean, devalue, and discriminate against human beings – to be, in effect, the Rick Santorum of the restaurant industry.
Few people would argue with that first statement, as there are few fast food concoctions as tasty as the Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich. A fried chicken breast and some pickle chips, served on a hot buttery bun, with a side of waffle fries and Polynesian sauce – I’m salivating just thinking about it (footnote 1).
Many people are unhappy with the second statement, and I’m one of them. However, it’s a fact of American life. People, and organizations, are allowed to donate money wherever they like. Chick-fil-A is a privately owned company, unaccountable to shareholders or the public in the way that McDonald’s or Burger King is. The company can give its money to whatever organization it deems fit. So can its owners.
The question we must wrestle with today doesn’t have to do with Chick-fil-A’s food or its charitable practices, but whether the company deserves a spot on the University of Tampa campus. I say no, it does not, because Chick-fil-A’s actions and values are opposed to those of the university.
At Chick-fil-A, your dollars pay for discrimination. Chick-fil-A’s WinShape Foundation supports many evangelical organizations that discriminate against gay, lesbian, and transgender people. According to multiple sources, WinShape has given more than $3 million to anti-gay groups since 2003. The groups include the so-called Family Research Council, which states on its website that being gay “… is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed,” and “It is by definition unnatural.”
Chick-fil-A doesn’t just discriminate against gay, lesbian, and transgender people. The New York Times reported in 2011 that Chick-fil-A routinely donates money for scholarships and foster homes – but only ones that espouse Christian values. That means that if you’re Jewish, Chick-fil-A doesn’t think you’re worthy of a college scholarship.
Shocked? You should be. Other companies don’t make discrimination a part of their philanthropic efforts. Imagine if McDonald’s decided that only Christians could stay at the Ronald McDonald house!
With such values, what message is Chick-fil-A sending to me, a Jewish, gay, married man? I envision a targeted advertising campaign for Jews in which cows hold placards that say “Eat mor chiken but yoo must konvert be4 we reespekt yoo.” Or one for the LGBT community: “Yoo don’t deeerve eekual rites. Eat mor chiken.”
I’ve already stated that Chick-fil-A, as a private company, has the right to do whatever it wants with its money.
But UT is also a private organization. And UT is better than Chick-fil-A.
UT doesn’t “discriminate on the basis of sex, race, color, handicap, religion, sexual orientation, or national or ethnic origin.” That’s in quotes because it’s lifted directly from UT’s student handbook. UT extends this non-discrimination policy to all areas of campus life. It applies “to the design and operation of any of our programs, policies, or activities.”
As a private institution, UT can choose what businesses it does business with – and, more importantly, what businesses it wants to be associated with. By allowing Chick-fil-A on campus, UT is telling its students, staff, faculty, and guests that it doesn’t mind hosting a company that thumbs its nose at the school’s values, ethics, and morals. Every Chick-fil-A sandwich sold on campus is another knock on UT’s reputation.
Let’s make a third thing perfectly clear: UT is not required to give space to Chick-fil-A. There’s no Fairness in Fast Food act that requires UT, as a landlord, to roll over whenever a restaurant wants to do business on campus. If there were, Chick-fil-A’s presence might not be so egregious.
So, what does the university need to do?
First, it needs to say farewell to Chick-fil-A. Yes, there are probably contracts that need to be unravelled. But it’s a mistake for Chick-fil-A to do business at UT, and that mistake needs to be remedied as quickly as possible. Chick-fil-A can buy or lease its own real estate elsewhere.
Second, the school needs to adopt a stronger anti-discrimination policy. It’s not enough that the school tells students, staff, and faculty that they can’t discriminate. It needs to tell vendors – the firms that do business with UT – that if they discriminate, they can’t have UT’s business. The school can earn its money any way it wants – why should it take money from businesses that think some UT students, faculty, and staff aren’t as worthy of human rights as other ones?
If a company wants to give all of its profits to organizations that work against women, or minorities, or the LGBT community, then so be it. But that company has no business being in business at UT.
1. For the record, McDonald’s makes a really good Southern-style chicken sandwich.