Discrimination, the Catholic Bishops, and Chick-fil-A by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

You may be tired of the controversy about Chick-fil-A, but the events of the last few weeks revealed a big issue in the organization – that of discrimination and the illusion of religious freedom.  However discrimination exists beyond the LGBTIQ community, it applies to Catholics and those “outside” their strict fundamentalist belief system.  However, the hierarchy in the Catholic Church seems to be embracing many of the beliefs put forth by Evangelical Fundamentalists in the political arena.

When it was time for my eldest daughter to get her first job, she applied and was hired to work at Chick-fil-A.  Knowing they were a  Christian organization, I felt that she would be well treated and we could still have family time on Sundays.  Everything started out o.k. but the longer she worked there, problems developed.  First, when I stopped through the drive-thru to show my support as her mother, I received apocalyptic material in my bag talking about the end times, where my soul would go, and inviting me to their church.  I found the material offensive and never returned. Despite the organization’s community support and “Christian” values, I was still fairly naive about their discriminatory practices that many experience on a daily basis.

When she was hired, my daughter was told that she would receive a raise after 90 days and that graduating seniors who work there were eligible to receive $1,000 scholarship – she received neither.  However they continued to tell her that she was a valued employee and they really liked her – but these words seem to lack action.

As time progressed, my daughter would often come home upset.  I never thought that being Catholic would affect her job – but it did.  She was not invited to go out with the other workers after work because she did not attend their church and youth group.  She attended a youth group through our cluster parish.  It seemed that the conversation and invites to “their” youth group was constant.  I guess some considered the fact she attended a Catholic youth group offensive.  In fact, this caused her to feel ostracized and conflicted.

Often she was assigned one particular job – the one that she hated the most.  When discussing this with her manager, she was told that she was put in the dining room because of her “personality” – and we bought it, for a short period of time.  Being in the dining room meant that her job was to take out garbage, clean the dining room, and clean bathrooms.  Rarely was she permitted to work counter or drive-thru, despite her requests to do so.  When she complained or had an “off” day, her manager would preach to her and tell her she must act like Jesus and treat people how he would – then quote a passage from Matthew.

They did work around her school schedule.  However this seemed to work to her disadvantage because suddenly her hours were cut for no explainable reason.  She would go an entire week, sometimes two, without any hours at all – no explanation, even when she confronted them.  She heard rumors that this was a sure sign of termination and she thought she was being set up to be fired.

We began to lift the veil of this “Christian” organization when she would come home with stories about workers refusing to serve people wearing anti-Christian apparel.  If a customer would make a comment about God not liking them or something anti-Christian, the manager or employee would come over and preach to them; sometimes they were even asked to leave.

Frankly, I believe that this experience was negative in terms of employment, exposure to staunch evangelical values, and discriminatory against someone who espoused being Catholic.   The corporate website contain publications and material that is subtly anti-Catholic. Our experience is not unique – tension between Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholics is commonplace.  Many Evangelical’s believe that Catholicism is essentially “Satanic.”  This group also believes that Catholics and anyone who is not “saved” or “accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior” is going to hell.  So, imagine my surprise when I find out that the Catholic Church came out in support of Chick-fil-A despite this very public stance.

Recently, for whatever reason, policies and speeches, especially in the political realm, are indistinguishable between Evangelical Fundamentalists and the USCCB.  The Tea Party, Evangelical Fundamentalists, and the USCCB have become strange partners in the fight against gay marriage and contraception (to name a few).  Hearing the Catholic Bishops and Cardinals espousing views and support in harmony with these groups, whose prevalent leaders are people like Pat Robertson, Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee (to name a few), is, to be blunt, frightening. Religious tolerance is one thing, and if this were the reason, I would not question it.  However, I think that political agendas have crossed and this alliance is one of mere convenience.  A climate of religious intolerance is being created – one  full of hate and even, at times, violent.

In a blog post dated July 29, 2012 by Cardinal Francis E. George, he states:

“Recent comments by those who administer our city seem to assume that the city government can decide for everyone what are the ‘values’ that must be held by the citizens of Chicago.”

Isn’t the Catholic Church doing this with their stance of denying contraceptive coverage to non-Catholic employees working at Catholic identified institutions?  Should people have the right to choose what value they follow?  Is this part of our First Amendment right?  New York Times columnist Ross Douthat points out that neither “freedom of belief” nor “freedom of worship” appear in the First Amendment – rather, the words are “’the free exercise’ of religion.”  The “religious liberties afforded to congregations….do not extend to religious businessmen.”   Douthat accuses Chick-fil-A’s president as well as many others of maintaining “a ‘façade’ of respect for religious freedom:”

“Say what you really think: that the exercise of our religion threatens all that’s good and decent, and that you’re going to use the levers of power to bend us to your will.”

Where do we draw the line between Huckabee’s support and the various Mayors denying permits for the organization to operate?  Should religion and politics be intertwined?  Should religion, whatever religion one professes to belong to or does not belong to, impact societal values? Should businesses be allowed to discriminate one faith over another – whether as customer or employee?

We need to remember whatever kind of discrimination we promote or embrace, or if we use “the levers of power to bend” people into compliance denies the dignity of a human being, which is a basic tenet of any Christian faith.  When we discriminate and force people to believe what we believe, we become bullies.  Human dignity is just important outside the womb and we must respect every human being, even if we do not agree with his or her choices. We must be pastoral, accepting, and loving as Jesus’ example reflects and we must not discriminate.

Michele Stopera Freyhauf is currently at the University of Akron doing post-graduate work in the area of the History of “the Americas” focusing on Religion, Gender, and Culture.  She has a Master of Arts Degree from John Carroll University in Theology and Religious Studies and is an Adjunct Instructor in Religious Studies at Ursuline College.  Her full bio is on the main contributor’s page or at http://johncarroll.academia.edu/MicheleFreyhauf.  Michele can be followed on twitter at @MSFreyhauf.

Categories: Abuse of Power, Activism, Catholic Church, Catholicism, Christianity, consumerism, Ethics, Evangelicalism, Family, Food, General, Hierarchy, Human Rights, Jesus, LGBTQ, Politics, Power relations

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12 replies

  1. Horrifying. I would like to think this is the last gasp of patriarchy, but it probably is not!


  2. This is one of the scariest stories I think I’ve ever read. It is indeed horrifying. Have the Chick-fil-A people never heard of the Sermon on the Mount? If I had the power, I’d do to them what Jesus did to the money-changers. Best wishes to your daughter.


  3. Wow . . . wow. I’m so sorry your daughter had that experience. I didn’t realize Chik-fil-A made a practice of hiring just Christian employees. Are they all like that? That’s super creepy . . . it also makes me want to walk into one in full witch regalia but I will refrain.


  4. Michelle, Is this practice of evangelizing across the board or particular to your geographical location? I have never eaten at one so I’m at a disadvantage here.


    • I know each are individually owned. With that said, I feel that this is an accurate reflection of the over-arching policies of management BUT I can speak only from my experience and what my research reflects. Let me share a couple of items with you. Here is a link to a Forbes article addressing this issue as well as another website addressing issues of discrimination:

      Here is a link to an actual lawsuit cited in one of the articles:

      Click to access 101150536-Lawsuit_1.pdf

      Also, if you go through the Cathy Family publications, especially the document called the Burning Brush – the last page pretty much sums up their philosophy. Here is the link:

      Click to access the_burning_brush.pdf

      There is a fair amount of information out there on this issue – some subtle, however if you have a handle on extreme evangelical fundamentalist views, it is pretty blatant.


      • I think this is geographical. The Chick-Fil-A on Sunset in West Hollywood is, to say the least, gay friendly. They provided food the Drag Chick-Fil-A video that was filmed right by Hamburger Mary’s and WeHo City Hall.

        I think when we look at geography, we get a better discussion. Of course they might be more “conservative” if they are in the RED Inland Valley but maybe one’s in WeHo are less? Corporate structure and values are one thing but we have to talk about the issue of each one being individually owned before making broad, striking claims.


      • I just read the Forbes article, Holy Sh*t! Their hiring and philosophy remind me of John Grisham’s The Firm. Now I’m wondering what the gender breakdown is of management + what are their hiring practices of non-whites?


      • Cynthie, I am not sure about those statistics but it would be interesting to find out.


  5. @fleurdeleah See the Forbes article above – it seems to answer your question. If you would walk into the one I refer to in my article in that type of clothing, I can almost guarantee that you would not be served and asked to leave.

    @Barbara – selective interpretation of the gospel, but isn’t that really the heart of most issues that we seem to face, especially with everything currently going on in the political world and the Catholic Church?

    @Carol – I think the last gasps are still out of our reach BUT we are getting closer!


  6. Thank you for this first hand account. I had not realized that the Roman Catholic church had come out in support of Chick-fil-A. What an unholy alliance.



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