Dan Cathy, president of the fast-food chain Chick-Fil-A, made news last month when he told the Baptist Press that the company was "guilty as charge" when it came to supporting "the Biblical definition of the family unit" — in other words, it opposed same-sex marriage legislation. Some Democratic mayors, including Chicago's Rahm Emanuel and Boston's Thomas Menino, issued statements they would oppose the chicken chain's expansion in their cities. The legal justification behind such a move wasn't spelled out, though the mayors got the press they no doubt sought.
Meanwhile, Fox News personality and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee launched a "Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day" set for Aug. 1, which was supported by family-values types including Fox News personality and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Family Research Council head Tony Perkins, former Pennsylvania Gov. Rick Santorum — and the newly formed East Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce.
A civic business council taking a stance on a divisive social issue? It makes sense when you find out that the chamber's chairman is Woody Jenkins, publisher/editor of several small newspapers in suburban Baton Rouge and a former member of the Louisiana House of Representatives for nearly three decades. In the House, Jenkins' voting record was lauded by both the Christian Coalition and Focus on the Family. A Republican, Jenkins ran for U.S. Senate in 1996 when J. Bennett Johnston retired; he narrowly lost the runoff to Mary Landrieu, who remains in the Senate.
Applicants to the East Baton Rouge Chamber (which was founded in May) must sign an affidavit promising their business "does not derive its revenue directly from gambling, a payday loan business, pornography or abortion," and agree to the chamber's mission statement: "To promote free enterprise, individual rights, limited government, traditional family values, character, education, patriotism, national defense and high ethical standards for business."
By contrast, the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce's entire mission statement is "to lead economic development in the nine-parish Baton Rouge metropolitan area," while the North Baton Rouge chamber has rebranded itself the Baton Rouge Black Chamber of Commerce. It supports African-American-owned businesses.
As for Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day, Jenkins took advance lunch orders personally by phone (his voice mailbox was full when Gambit called him), and he had tables set up in the parking lot of the East Baton Rouge restaurant, where chamber members handed out pre-boxed lunches for $6 apiece.
Jenkins did not return Gambit's email for comment, but judging from media reports, the day was a success for Chick-Fil-A franchises around the country and in Baton Rouge, where the chicken restaurants saw jammed drive-through lanes and long lines of customers inside. — KEVIN ALLMAN