Last week, the Northeastern University Student Senate voted to rescind plans to bring a Chick-fil-A to campus because of the company's financial support of groups which oppose gay and lesbian rights.
Chick-fil-A had been one of a group of restaurants being eyed for vendor spots in the University's new student center. The offer was canceled as a result of Chick-fil-A's support of a number of organizations that oppose gay and lesbian rights, including opposing same sex marriage. These groups include Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, Exodus International, the Marriage & Family Legacy Fund, and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. In 2009, Chick-fil-A reportedly contributed $1.7 million to groups that oppose gay and lesbian rights.
Northeastern University is the latest in a string of colleges and universities which have been calling on the removal of Chick-fil-A franchises on their campuses.
In response to Northeastern University's action, Chick-fil-A issued a statement asserting that the University's action was based on lack of complete information. The company argued that its donations were not "anti-gay" even though they are going towards organizations which fight gay rights because the intent of those donations was to support other aspects of those organization's activities, such as to support "inter-city mentors and chaplains for schools and colleges."
According to the statement: "We certainly feel detailed and fair information about our giving has not be shared by some. I want to assure you that the historical intent of our Foundation and corporate giving have been toward compassion, principally by serving youth and families... . As some have looked back at the public giving records of the WinShape Foundation, they have unfortunately misinterpreted this support as having a political agenda, largely referencing any religious or faith-based giving as “anti-gay.” For example, if you take the example of FCA, and ask us what was the purpose of the giving, it was to support inter-city mentors and chaplains for schools and colleges primarily here metro Atlanta. Those monies have been labeled as “anti-gay” because of the affiliation with a faith-based organization."
In another statement, the President of Chick-fil-A added: "At Chick-fil-A, we have a genuine commitment to hospitality for all of our guests. We are not “anti anybody” and have no agenda, policy or position against anyone as some continue to confuse with misleading reports. Instead, we have a 65-year history of providing hospitality for all people and, as a dedicated family business, serving and valuing everyone regardless of their beliefs or opinions. Every morning when we open our restaurants across the country, we strive to treat each customer with honor, dignity and respect. At the cornerstone of this commitment is a belief in the importance of loving your neighbor as yourself. We will not champion any political agendas on marriage and family."
The Rest of the Story
Last year, I criticized the American Dietetic Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians for accepting money and partnerships with Coca-Cola and/or PepsiCo, companies which market sugar-laden soft drinks that are undoubtedly contributing to the nation's obesity epidemic.
These health organizations are defending their partnerships with these soda companies by arguing that although Coca-Cola and PepsiCo sell sodas, they also sell other products that are healthy. For example, one member of the American Dietetic Association responded to my blog post by arguing that: "the companies you criticize have a wide variety of products available from good for you to more indulgent. These companies employ many of the best scientists in the world because they want to make a difference in providing healthier options to consumers."
Another ADA member wrote: "Both Coca Cola and Pepsi are massive companies that represent a multitude of brands. According to Cokes own website they have 3500 different brands in over 200 countries including water, fruit juice and soy beverages. Pepsi's brands include Frito Lay, Tropicana, and Quaker. Everyone focuses on the "worst" of these brands, the high calorie sodas, but seems to ignore all of the other possibilities within both Pepsi and Coke."
Essentially, the American Dietetic Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Academy of Family Physicians are using the same line of reasoning that Chick-fil-A is using to defend its financial support of groups that oppose gay rights. The ADA, AAP, and AAFP are arguing that while some things which Coca-Cola and PepsiCo sell are major causes of obesity, these companies also sell other products that are not harmful. For example, Coca-Cola sells Coke, but it also sells Dasani water. PepsiCo sells Pepsi and Fritos, but it also sells Tropicana orange juice.
Similarly, Chick-fil-A is defending its support of groups that oppose and fight against gay rights by arguing that these organizations also do some good things, like providing mentoring to youth.
These arguments are both out of the exact same playbook, and the playbook is wrong.
To see how wrong the playbook is, consider the very same line of reasoning applied to some other companies or organizations:
1. The Ku Klux Klan has contributed money to charities, including the Volunteers of America and even the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The Klan also contributes money to social welfare causes, such as aiding the poor. Does this mean that the Ku Klux Klan is therefore not anti-black? Does it excuse anyone who contributes to the KKK? Can you imagine Chick-fil-A trying to defend contributions to the KKK by arguing that it is only trying to support volunteer activities in America and to help the poor - it is not anti-black or anti-anybody. The argument just doesn't work.
2. Philip Morris donates a huge amount of money to charitable causes. It has contributed to hunger relief, disaster relief, youth scholarships, AIDS and domestic violence charities, and many more. Would the ADA, AAP, and AAFP defend taking Philip Morris money by noting that although Philip Morris produces cigarettes, it also does good work for people in need?
3. The modern Nazi Party makes contributions to improve child welfare. In fact, one of the major issues of the modern Nazi Party is "children's welfare." Would anyone defend a contribution to the Nazi Party by arguing that although the organization is anti-black, it does good things for children's welfare?
4. The National Rifle Association has programs to provide gun safety information to youth in an effort to avoid gun-related injury among children. Can you imagine if a gun control organization, such as Stop Handgun Violence, made a contribution to the NRA and defended it by arguing that while the NRA lobbies against gun control measures, it also does some really good things like working to protect children from gun-related injury.
5. Smith & Wesson not only manufactures guns. It also manufactures security systems that play a significant role in the nation's efforts to prevent terrorism. These include high security fencing, traffic control drop arms, security barriers, crash barriers, mass notification alert systems, and advanced intrusion detection systems. Not only that, but Smith & Wesson manufactures a host of traffic safety products that help protect all of us from motor vehicle accidents every day, including median barriers, traffic barriers with anti-ram protection, radar speed sensors, and overheight detection systems to prevent truck accidents. Could a gun control organization credibly defend making a contribution to Smith & Wesson by arguing that although the company manufactures guns - which are responsible for the deaths of 500 children each year - it also makes products that are contributing to traffic safety and homeland security? No public health organization would ever get away with that, because the flaw in the argument is readily seen.
When you donate to, partner with, accept money from, or otherwise align your company or organization with an entity whose agenda includes fighting against gay rights, you cannot separate yourself from that agenda by claiming that you are actually supporting other work that the organization does. You cannot argue that you are not taking any position on gay rights or doing anything that is anti-gay rights because your contribution is actually intended for a charitable purpose.
The point is - by giving money to an organization, taking money from an organization, or partnering with that organization, you are lending your good name to the overall purpose of the other organization. You can't separate out different aspects of the organization.
This is the flaw in Chick-fil-A's argument, and it is why the students at Northeastern did not fail to take into account detailed or additional information that would have changed their minds. They had the information they needed, which is that Chick-fil-A contributes large amounts of money to groups that actively fight against gay rights. The students see no reason to affiliate their university with a company that has an anti-gay agenda, so they are perfectly appropriate in voting not to invite Chick-fil-A to market its products at their university.
But today's rest of the story is that just as Chick-fil-A's argument that they are not taking an anti-gay rights position by supporting groups like Focus on the Family is fallacious, so too is the argument from the American Dietetic Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Academy of Family Physicians that by partnering with and taking money from soft drink companies they are not supporting a pro-obesity and anti-public health agenda.
While not intended, these groups are taking an anti-health position by partnering with the corporations that are responsible for a significant part of the nation's obesity epidemic. These corporations actively oppose almost every substantial state law that would significantly reduce obesity by lowering soft drink consumption. And so through the money flowing into their hands from these companies, the ADA, AAP, and AAFP are also taking a stance that opposes legislation to improve the public's health. There's just no way to defend this to take these public health groups off the hook.
Arguing that partnering with Coca-Cola and PepsiCo is acceptable because these companies produce some good products in addition to the junk food and soft drinks that are contributing to the obesity epidemic does not hold Dasani water. When you partner with an organization or exchange funding one direction or the other, you are associating with all aspects of that organization. There's no escape.
There's no escape for Chick-fil-A, nor is there any longer an escape for the American Dietetic Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians.