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Can Towns Bar Chick-fil-A From Opening New Stores for Its Explicit Anti-Gay Stance?

The owner's anti-gay crusade is funded in large part straight from Chick-fil-A corporate coffers.

The dust-up between Chick-fil-A and the mayors of Boston and Chicago finally got interesting on Monday when it turned into a debate over corporate personhood.  

I had a chance to weigh in on the topic on The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann last Friday when I was asked if I had a problem with what the mayors did. I gave a simple response: “No.”

But then I elaborated, pointing out that the mayors were well within their right to threaten Chick-fil-A, however, if Boston or Chicago took the next step and actually denied licenses to the fast-food giant, then there could be a problem with discrimination and government overreach.  I now know I was wrong.

On Monday, Lee Fang, investigative reporter at the Nationexposed the mistake many progressives, myself included, had made on this issue. First, as Fang pointed out, the Chick-fil-A controversy has nothing to do with the views of CEO Dan Cathy and his family’s hefty contributions to anti-gay hate groups like the Family Research Council. The Cathy family has every right to spend millions discriminating against gays and lesbians, just like consumers have every right to choose not to eat at Chick-fil-A knowing the restaurant’s religious agenda goes beyond just closing on Sundays.  

The problem, however, is that it’s not just the Cathy family that’s donating to hate groups; the Chick-fil-A corporation is as well. As Fang reveals, the Cathy family’s anti-gay crusade is funded in large part straight from Chick-fil-A corporate coffers. In fact, Chick-fil-A and its corporate affiliates donated more than $19.5 million in 2010 to the Cathy family’s charity, which acts as a vehicle to funnel money into anti-gay hate groups.  

So Fang asks:

If a corporation uses its general treasury funds to finance political advocacy, does that mean any politician that takes action against that corporation in response to that advocacy is violating the First Amendment? It’s a question that comes down to whether you believe corporations have rights akin to human beings.

While Fang largely leaves the question open-handed, I’ll close it. I don’t believe corporations are people, nor do a growing number of progressives, libertarians, Democrats, and even Republicans who’ve all recently joined movements like Move to Amend to overturn the doctrine of corporate personhood. As many as 280 cities and six states have passed resolutions to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and many have gone a step further to overturn corporate personhood altogether.

I don’t believe corporations have a right to free speech, nor are they protected from discrimination like actual people (except for gays and lesbians, who can still legally be discriminated against).  

On that premise, I believe a corporation like Chick-fil-A can legally be barred from opening up shop in a city where citizens have come together, elected a government, and passed laws keeping specific corporations out of the city limits.  

Now enter Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald. Within two hours of Fang posting his column questioning the personhood of Chick-fil-A, Greenwald posted his own column slashing Fang and saying, “I have a question for him and those who think like him.”

That means a question for me.

Greenwald begins first by arguing all nine justices on the Supreme Court have affirmed corporate personhood and agree that corporate speech is protected under the First Amendment.  

He’s right, but it’s not saying much. On one of the few issues that  Rand Paul and I agree on, I don’t consider the Supreme Court the final arbiter of what’s right and wrong. While SCOTUS has ruled that corporations are people, it has also ruled that people are property – think Dred Scott. And of course, anyone saying, “Well, the Supreme Court has spoken, let’s live with it,” one day after the Dred Scott decision would clearly have been on the wrong side of history.