WASHINGTON — The United States Commission on Civil Rights has sent a letter to the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA), urging the entity to rescind the decision not to allow the popular fast food chain Chick-fil-A from opening a restaurant at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.
Commissioner Peter Kirsanow sent the letter on Monday to the chair of the Authority, Denise Roche, former president of D’Youville College and member of the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart.
“This exclusion plainly violates the First Amendment and is contrary to the American tradition of respecting freedom of religion and belief,” Kirsanow wrote. “Quite simply, because the Buffalo airport is funded by taxpayers and run by the government, vendors cannot be excluded based on their speech or their religious beliefs.”
As previously reported, NFTA and Delaware North had originally planned on including the chicken chain at the airport food court in the fall of 2019. After learning of the development, Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, publicly expressed his disapproval.
“I don’t believe the leadership of the NFTA intends to spread hate and discrimination, but allowing a corporation to do business at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport will help fund continued divisive anti-LGBTQ rhetoric,” he opined on Twitter.
“New York is a welcoming state that celebrates diversity. The views of Chick-fil-A do not represent our state or the Western New York community, and businesses that support discrimination have no place operating in taxpayer-funded public facilities,” Ryan contended.
While it is not known why, NFTA and Delaware North soon reversed the decision. NFTA said in a statement released to local television station WKBW, “We are working with Delaware North to move forward on identifying and offering best in class food selections for the thousands of customers who come in and out of our airport.”
Kisanow outlined in his letter on Monday that he took issue with Ryan’s words, which he characterized as “exclusion in the name of ostensible inclusion; intolerance in the name of tolerance.” He stated that some of the assertions against Chick-fil-A are inaccurate.
“There’s no evidence that Chick-fil-A discriminates against LGBT individuals in hiring or conditions of employment,” Kisanow wrote. “There is no evidence that Chick-fil-A refuses to serve LGBT individuals at their restaurants. The sole issue is monetary donations made by the Chick-fil-A Foundation to some religious-based organizations that support the traditional understanding of marriage.”
Kisanow found disagreeing with donations made to certain religious organizations to be an unacceptable reason to ban a company from opening a restaurant in the food court.
“The only manifest evidence of discrimination in this matter is by the NFTA,” he stated. “The NFTA is engaging in discrimination on the basis of speech and religion. This is every bit as prohibited by the First Amendment when directed at traditional Christians as it would be if NFTA blocked the opening of a Muslim, Jewish, or Buddhist-owned restaurant because of the owner’s religion.”
The Commissioner urged the NFTA to rescind its ban, warning that Chick-fil-A could sue over the matter, and taxpayers would have to foot the bill.
A spokesperson for the NFTA told local television station WGRZ that it is up to concession contractor Delaware North whether or not to include or disclude Chick-fil-A at the airport.
As previously reported, Chick-fil-A has distanced itself in recent years from any stance on homosexuality, including that of the organizations to which it donates. It contends that it continues to be mischaracterized as an anti-homosexual company or one that donates to causes that oppose homosexuality.
“Recent coverage about Chick-fil-A continues to drive an inaccurate narrative about our brand,” the restaurant chain said in a statement. “We want to make it clear that our sole focus is on providing delicious food and welcoming everyone — not being a part of a national political conversation. We do not have a political or social agenda.”
“More than 145,000 people from different backgrounds and beliefs represent the Chick-fil-A brand. We embrace all people, regardless of religion, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Representatives of Chick-fil-A have also created a page on the company website, it said, to “set the record straight” in light of a “long trend in what continues to be a misleading report that is driving an inaccurate narrative about our brand.”
While not mentioning the outlet’s name, Chick-fil-A noted that ThinkProgress had recently written a report highlighting that the company had donated $1,653,416 to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, $6,000 to the Paul Anderson Youth Home, and $150,000 to the Salvation Army in 2017, among others.
“The Fellowship of Christian Athletes is a religious organization that seeks to spread an anti-LGBTQ message to college athletes and requires a strict ‘sexual purity’ policy for its employees that bars any ‘homosexual acts,’” reporter Josh Israel wrote in taking issue with the company’s donor practices.
“Paul Anderson Youth Home, a ‘Christian residential home for troubled youth,’ teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is ‘rage against Jesus Christ and His values,’” he bemoaned.
Chick-fil-A again distanced itself from these notations, writing in its explanation that it was misleading for Think Progress to frame the donations in such a manner, as the company solely has a focus on giving to “youth and educational programs.”
It outlined that its donations to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes were to “fund sports camps and school programs for inner-city youth” across the country. It gave to the Salvation Army for youth projects such as the “camps for kids and the Angel Tree program,” the latter of which serves children who have a parent in prison.
And while the company donated to the Paul Anderson Youth Home, the funds were for “a bike ride fundraiser, operational support [and] an annual Christmas dinner theatre for local children.” Chick-fil-A further noted that it has discontinued giving to the charity “after a blog post surfaced that does not meet Chick-fil-A’s commitment to creating a welcoming environment to all.”
The late pastor and author A.W. Tozer once said, “There is no Christian victory or blessing if we refuse to turn away from the things that God hates. Even if it is accepted in the whole social class of which you are a part, turn away from it. Even if there is something that has come to be accepted by our generation, turn away from it if it is wrong and an offense to our holy and righteous Savior.”
Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth: to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”