The Chick-fil-A Dilemma: To Eat or Not To Eat?

The controversy surrounding Chick-fil-A has left some consumers wondering whether they should eat there or not. Ahead of "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" host Michel Martin speaks with ethicist Jack Marshall about the implications of spending decisions and what role businesses and political leaders have to play.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to take one more pass at this story. Having heard two different perspectives here - and we figure that there might even be others - we thought it might be a good time to talk about how to weigh these issues in our own lives. So we've called upon Jack Marshall. He's the president and founder of ProEthics. That's an ethics consulting group.

Welcome back. Thank you so much for joining us once again.

JACK MARSHALL: Always great to be here, Michel.

MARTIN: Can I just get your seat-of-the-pants reaction to the controversy as it has unfolded?

MARSHALL: I can't think of a thing Mary Mitchell said that I disagree with, and I think the councilman was incoherent. I mean, I find the basic - I find the whole idea of elected officials, especially, calling down public rejection and trying to eject out of the community people on the basis of what they think is essentially un-American and dangerous, as Mary Mitchell said.

MARTIN: Well, let me go back, though, and press you on the point that James Kenney made. I mean, or let me just - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says that he feels it's his obligation to stand up for gay couples in his community and to speak on their behalf. He feels it's an - I'm putting words in his mouth in this instance, but I gather he feels that this is his ethical responsibility.

MARSHALL: And that's a legitimate position to take, and it's always legitimate for elected officials to use the bully pulpit to uphold what they believe are community standards. When they start focusing on a particular individual or a particular business that holds a - that has a particular point of view that is legal, open and constitutionally protected, then we're talking about what I would call bordering on totalitarian, requiring absolute conformity and saying that if you do not get into step with our official position, then you are not welcome in this community, that's un-American.

And anyone who applauds, like, the words of Mayor Emanuel should think about - what if he got and said we don't want any Muslim-owned businesses in this community because of their position on gender equality? They should be ejected from the community. No one should support them. I believe that would be regarded as an outrageous position.

MARTIN: But what if he said we don't want anybody who - people who oppose interracial marriage or inter-religious marriage or mixed religious marriages?

MARSHALL: I mean, I think there's a big difference between saying this is a position we disagree with. This is not our position. This should be the direction a progressive community goes in, and to point to specific businesses and specific individuals and say - and direct the public's enmity against them. I think that is the dividing line where it becomes abuse of power.

MARTIN: Well, let's talk, then, on a more personal level, because I'm gathering that some people might be listening to this conversation or listening to others around this issue and be conflicted. And so I'm asking, you know, what framework do you think that individuals might want to employ at a time like this? I mean, Mary Mitchell has written, you know, elsewhere - we didn't talk so much about this today - about the employment opportunities that Chick-fil-A has offered to many people in many, you know, parts of the country.

And, on the other hand, you have people who feel that the statements of this - the president of the company are objectionable and violate their own sense of what is right. How would you weigh - what would you weigh in debate, as an individual consumer?

MARSHALL: Well, the key comment the councilman made that I thought was fascinating - when he said it's OK to do good, but if you do good, you can't - you have to do good all the time. If we start dividing every individual and every business into all the things they do, there is no question in my mind that you will find a justification for boycotting everybody.

I mean, you know, I - where does it end? And especially in an economic environment where we want to cheer on businesses that provide services, hire people, do good work for the community, in the absence, you asked the correct question: Is there any evidence this company discriminates against gay people, discriminates against gay couples, does - in any way, in any way does harm to them directly, in that regard, the company itself?

In the absence of that, then I think the owner has a right to express whatever opinions he wishes to express. And, by the way, if an individual chooses to boycott it, absolutely. I mean, I was just saying in the green room, I haven't watched a Woody Allen movie since he had what I consider an affair with his adopted daughter. That offends me. I can't - don't find him funny anymore. I'm not putting any more money into his pocket. That's a personal opinion.

If an elected official gets up and says it is wrong for Americans to go to Woody Allen movies, I think that is an abuse of power.

MARTIN: What if individuals say to their friends: I am unwilling to eat at this place because I am offended by this person's behavior or his attitudes - the owner of this company's attitude, or the president of this company, rather - his attitudes toward same-sex couples or same-gender-loving individuals. Do you think that's an acceptable use of your own personal power?

MARSHALL: Absolutely. Let's argue about it. Let's mix it up. I'm willing to go toe-to-toe with someone and explain that that's too narrow and that we - there are people now in this highly polarized society that won't be friends with someone who holds a political opinion, doesn't back the Affordable Care Act.

I think that when we take that attitude, we start tugging at the social fabric that holds America together, that we should be able to discuss, live with, respect people who hold even opinions we find reprehensible as long as they hold them in an honorable, respectable way, and as long as they go through the process. I mean, the fact is - though everyone seems to forget it - the Defense of Marriage Act is still officially the law of the land, and the law of the land is how, traditionally, communities express their values.

MARTIN: Let me just raise one more point that Mary Mitchell raised. She also raised the point that there are a number of other issues in her community that she's upset about and she hasn't heard her political leaders express any concern about that, particularly discriminating, in her view - or, at least, in their view - young African-American men who attempt to patronize certain businesses, and she feels these businesses are using certain screens to keep them out in a manner that she believes is discriminatory.

She says she doesn't hear her political leadership say enough about that. But others say, am I now required to go and investigate the politics of every country that - every company I might want to do business with? Right? How would people sort that out? How should they sort that out for themselves? I'm sorry. I only have a couple of minutes...

MARSHALL: I know. I understand. I think it becomes an all-consuming mania to try to work on that basis. I think she's right. I think the mayors in this case were all pandering. Mayor Gray put out a tweet recently saying the same thing. He's got his own political problems in Washington. I'm sure it's nice to pander to a particular political group, but the fact is this isn't the role of elected officials in government in the United States. That's what the Constitution is all about. Let us individuals sort it out. Eventually we'll come to a cultural consensus. That's how ethical and cultural norms get set.

MARTIN: Jack Marshall is the president and founder of ProEthics. That's an ethics consulting group. He was kind enough to join us in our Washington D.C. studios. Jack, thank you...

MARSHALL: Thank you very much, Michel.

MARTIN: ...for joining us once again. And I just want to mention once again that we did reach out to Chick-fil-A to ask them to join our conversation in some way, but they declined that invitation.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.