Chicken-fried controversy

City of San Antonio allows Chick-fil-A to roost at airport despite controversy

San Antonio allows Chick-fil-A to roost at airport despite controversy

Chick fil A exterior
Chick-fil-A is allowed to nest in the San Antonio airport. Photo courtesy of Chick-fil-A

Following more than a year of feather-ruffling controversy, fast-food chicken chain Chick-fil-A is being permitted to fly into San Antonio International Airport. But a state official’s characterization of the apparent end to the Chick-fil-A commotion has left a really bad taste in the City of San Antonio’s mouth.

In a September 14 news release, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the City of San Antonio had reached an agreement to let the chain open a restaurant at the city-owned airport. Paxton claims the city was “ordered” to lift the Chick-fil-A ban.

San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia takes issue with Paxton’s pronouncement that the City of San Antonio is being forced to lease space to Chick-fil-A.

“Unfortunately and ironically, AG Paxton’s false declaration of victory significantly jeopardizes the potential for a mutually beneficial and amicable resolution,” Segovia warns in a written statement.

Citing Chick-fil-A’s “legacy of anti-LGBT behavior,” the San Antonio City Council voted 6-4 in March 2019 to exclude the restaurant chain from a new contract for airport concessionaires. For years, critics have complained about the company's record on LGBTQ+ rights.

Last year, Paxton asked U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to investigate the City of San Antonio’s ban on Chick-fil-A setting up a restaurant at the airport. Paxton released a September 10 letter from the FAA explaining that the City of San Antonio agreed July 24 to allow the fast-food chain to lease space in Terminal A. The letter states that the lease offer must be made within 45 days of September 10.

“This is a win for religious liberty in Texas, and I strongly commend the FAA and the City of San Antonio for reaching this resolution,” Paxton says in the September 14 release. “To exclude a respected vendor based on religious beliefs is the opposite of tolerance and is inconsistent with the Constitution, Texas law, and Texas values. Our great state deeply values the First Amendment, and I will defend those rights for all who live and work in Texas.” 

Segovia pushed back on Paxton’s explanation of how the issue was resolved.

“The City itself offered to resolve the FAA investigation informally. The City maintains that at no point did it discriminate against Chick-fil-A,” Segovia’s statement says. “Any placement of Chick-fil-A at the San Antonio Airport is ultimately contingent on Chick-fil-A’s continued interest and approval by the City Council.”

Last year, the San Antonio/Chick-fil-A brouhaha prompted state lawmakers to pass a measure declaring that no business in Texas should, in the words of Gov. Greg Abbott, “be discriminated against simply because its owners gave to a church or to the Salvation Army or to any other religious organization.” Abbott signed the bill last June. The law amounted mostly to a political statement, though, as religious freedom already enjoyed protection under the First Amendment.

Conservatives rallied around Chick-fil-A in the wake of the San Antonio ruckus, while progressives lashed out at what they described as efforts to promote discrimination against the LGBTQ community in Texas. Last year, LGBTQ+ rights organization Equality Texas called the “Save Chick-fil-A” bill “an anti-LGBTQ dog whistle.”

Last November, the Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A’s charitable foundation said it would stop donating to three Christian groups that oppose same-sex marriage, but would keep contributing to both faith-based and non-faith-based organizations.

Founder S. Truett Cathy, who died in 2014, was a devout Southern Baptist whose religious beliefs still permeate the company. For instance, all restaurants are famously closed on Sundays. Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy, the founder’s oldest son, ignited a firestorm of controversy in 2012 when he denounced same-sex marriage. Two years later, Dan Cathy admitted it was a mistake to dive into the debate over same-sex marriage.

Chick-fil-A didn’t respond to a request for comment about Paxton’s announcement.

San Antonio City Councilman Roberto Treviño also declined to comment. In a statement last year about the council’s Chick-fil-A decision, Treviño defended San Antonio as “a champion of equality and inclusion.”

“San Antonio is a city full of compassion,” the councilman said, “and we don’t have room in our public facilities for a business with a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior.”