Is Chick-fil-A Controversy A Civil Rights Debate?

We continue our conversation with Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell. Host Michel Martin asks if Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy's comments amount to hate speech.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Coming up, are you getting those spam text messages? Are they running up your bill and just getting on your nerves? We'll try to find out what can be done about those in just a few minutes. But first, we're going to continue our conversation on Chick-fil-A.

I'm speaking with Mary Mitchell, columnist with the Chicago Sun-Times. She is opposed to the plans by some political leaders - particularly those in Chicago - who say they want to block Chick-fil-A from coming to their city because of the statements by the president of that company on his views opposing same-sex marriage. Mary Mitchell is with us - is continuing with us for a few minutes.

Let me just sort of press you on this one question that the previous councilman made, which is that he believes that this is hate speech directed at a particular segment of the population. And on that standard, he says that he believes it's a responsibility for conscious people or people who don't agree with that to oppose this and to make that opposition well known. Is that bullying?

MARY MITCHELL: Well, I think it cheapens our definition of a hate speech. You talk about African-Americans and call them the n-word and use that kind of language and use hateful language toward them, then I think that that's a problem.

I don't see hate speech here. I see a man expressing a biblical viewpoint that many people may not agree with, but there are people who believe the Bible. There are people who feel that way. Dan Cathy believes in the literal interpretation of the Bible. That makes it hate speech? Then we might as well say the Bible is full of hate speech.

MARTIN: Mary, there's another point that you made in your column where you chided political leaders for, in your view, kind of jumping on the bandwagon in what is perhaps a hot issue and ignoring other issues in the city that you feel that they haven't taken on, even though they're similar. Could you just talk a little bit about that?

MITCHELL: Well, I think this controversy over Chick-fil-A shows that it's a political debate and that people are pandering, really, to the LGBT community by jumping on it, because this is Chicago. The city council's been very hypocritical. I've written many, many stories about an ongoing problem here, and that's with bars in popular parts of the city that discriminate against - and have been discriminating against - certain parts of the population, mainly African-American males. They use dress codes to violate the rights of African-American males to patronize these bars.

We've even had white people come to me and say, hey, this is going on. They file lawsuits about it. I have not seen one city councilperson stand up and say, you know, this is not right and we're going to tackle this and we're going to take the license of these people. We don't want that business. They have not done it.

But when it comes to something like Chick-fil-A, which they're going to score points within the gay community for their support of this alderman who wants to block the business from coming here, everybody's all over it.

MARTIN: Do you want to hazard a guess about where this is going to go?

MITCHELL: Oh, I don't think they're going to back down. I think it's going to keep going...

MARTIN: Who's the "they" in that?

MITCHELL: ...across the country.

MARTIN: Who's the "they" in that sentence?

MITCHELL: The "they" meaning - the "they" in that would be the mayors of places like Boston and San Francisco and the councilman that you just talked to in Philadelphia. They're going to keep this alive. This is going to grow. And I wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't land up in the White House, you know, and someone is going to ask the president: What do you think about Chick-fil-A?

MARTIN: Mary Mitchell is a columnist with the Chicago Sun-Times. She was kind enough to join us from member station WBEZ today. Mary Mitchell, thank you for speaking with us.

MITCHELL: Always a pleasure.

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