CORTMAN: Chick-fil-A can’t be banned from campus over speech

First Amendment protects businessman’s opinion

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When Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy spoke about marriage last month, he did something every American is free to do. He voiced his opinion and aired his convictions. In response, some activist groups that disagree with Mr. Cathy have demanded that Chick-fil-A restaurants be removed immediately from several university campuses.

Mr. Cathy spoke without seeking to silence those who disagreed with him in any way. Yet many of those who disagree with him not only have voiced their disagreement but also are seeking to silence him, and Chick-fil-A, while they’re at it.

To prevent this from happening, Alliance Defending Freedom sent letters focused on the First Amendment and the Supreme Court precedent supporting Chick-fil-A’s speech to four public universities that have received demands to kick Chick-fil-A off campus. This type of retaliation is not only un-American, it’s likely illegal, too.

The groups say Chick-fil-A has no right to voice a position on marriage because it is an entity rather than a person. In our letter, we remind universities that the Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment “is written in terms of ‘speech,’ not speakers.” Therefore, the text of the amendment “offers no foothold for excluding any category of speaker, from single individuals to partnerships of individuals, to unincorporated associations of individuals, to incorporated associations of individuals.”

For those who don’t concern themselves with what freedoms Chick-fil-A does or doesn’t have and simply want universities to ban the restaurant from campus because they find its speech disagreeable, we point to other court rulings, including the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision, which show that government discrimination against or punishment of a corporation because of its speech violates the First Amendment.

Any attempt to shut down a Chick-fil-A restaurant via license denial or permit rejections should fail, as Supreme Court precedent clearly holds that the First Amendment prohibits retaliatory enforcement of licensing and permit regulations against a business for its protected speech activities.

Perhaps some groups understand this, so they instead attempt to silence the chicken chain based upon the entities Chick-fil-A supports financially. By taking this angle, they try to paint the restaurant into a corner with depictions that it is “anti” this or “against” that. Yet here, too, the Supreme Court has spoken, making it clear via precedent that the First Amendment protection for speech likewise extends to Chick-fil-A’s freedom to give financial support to pro-family organizations and charities if it so chooses.

In truth, no angle that has been floated for use against Chick-fil-A’s freedom of speech will stand up in a court of law.

As with speech in support of same-sex “marriage,” we don’t have to agree with it — we don’t even have to listen to it — but we do have to tolerate the speaker’s right to utter it. This is true whether the speaker is a person or a corporation, such as Google, for example, which publicly has opposed the defense of marriage. It’s no less true for Chick-fil-A, and Supreme Court precedent supports that.

It seems clear from the outpouring of support at the cash register on Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day that the American people support that principle, too.

David Cortman is senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom.

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