1st Liberty joins lawsuit over Chick-fil-A ban records

PLANO, Texas (BP) -- First Liberty Institute has joined a lawsuit for public records involved in Chick-fil-A's ban from the San Antonio airport for supporting religious groups.

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First Liberty, one of three agencies or offices investigating the San Antonio City Council's vote against Chick-fil-A, joined Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's lawsuit Tuesday (July 9), First Liberty said in a press release.

The case stems from the council's vote to bar Chick-fil-A from a concessions contract at the San Antonio International Airport expressly because the restaurant supports Christian nonprofits. Councilmembers accused the restaurant of being anti-LGBT, citing Chick-fil-A Foundation donations to groups including the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

"If San Antonio city officials are proud of their decision to ban Chick-fil-A from the city's airport, why do they insist on hiding from the public its records about the decision?" First Liberty council Keisha Russell said. "The public deserves to know just how deeply the religious animosity runs within San Antonio's city government. We're happy to be joining General Paxton in the effort to get to the bottom of San Antonio's decision."

The Federal Aviation Administration opened an investigation against the city in May, responding to requests from Paxton and First Liberty.

"Federal requirements prohibit airport operators from excluding persons on the basis of religious creed from participating in airport activities that receive or benefit from FAA grant funding," the FAA said in announcing its investigation.

The city council was explicit in its reasoning for barring Chick-fil-A from the airport contract, Paxton said in filing the lawsuit.

"Chick-fil-A's leadership is well-known for their personal belief in the Christian faith and traditional understanding of marriage," Paxton said in June. "Members of the City Council who spearheaded the decision to exclude Chick-fil-A did not attempt to hide their discriminatory motives: one branded the company out of line with 'our core values as a city.' Yet another council member denounced Chick-fil-A as a 'symbol of hate.'"

The San Antonio City Council has defended withholding certain documents, citing Texas Public Information Act exceptions regarding litigation and settlement negotiations.

"The City of San Antonio will be releasing responsive documents that are available to the public, or have been released through some other forum, to the requestor," the city said in responding to First Liberty's request. "However, the City seeks to withhold certain records."

Chick-fil-A is not involved in the lawsuit, but has defended its charitable contributions.

"The work of the Foundation is committed to youth and education," the Chick-fil-A Foundation has said. "The Foundation's giving helps with economic mobility of young people by focusing on homelessness and poverty, education, and community revitalization, and is done with no political or social agenda. The narrative that our giving was done to support a political or non-inclusive agenda is inaccurate and misleading."

Chick-fil-A has long maintained it does not discriminate based on religious beliefs and has no political agenda. Objections to Chick-fil-A are fueled by the LGBT community and stem from CEO Dan Cathy's 2012 statement that he supports a "biblical definition of the family."

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.
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