JOPLIN, Mo. —
A national controversy following comments made by the president of Chick-fil-A made its way to Joplin, with hundreds of area residents paying a visit to the Joplin restaurant Wednesday.
Long lines of supporters in cars, trucks and church vans backed up traffic on Range Line Road, and several vehicles had bumper stickers or window paint expressing support for the company. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee apparently inspired the turnout by using Facebook to declare Wednesday as national “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.”
“We came just to take a stand and support Chick-fil-A,” said Randy Bishop, of Joplin. “We win by eating Chick-fil-A, and we win by supporting their beliefs. To us as Christians, it’s not controversial. It’s the truth. We’ve been silent too long.”
Chick-fil-A, the national chain known for its chicken sandwiches and waffle fries, has been embroiled in controversy since its president, Dan Cathy, said the company was “guilty as charged” for backing “the biblical definition of a family.” The company’s charitable arm, WinShape Foundation Inc., has been a large contributor to anti-gay-marriage groups like the Marriage and Family Foundation and the Family Research Council, among others, according to the foundation’s tax filings.
Raymond Dunaway, manager of the Joplin store, said corporate headquarters asked managers not to comment because it is such a controversial subject.
So far, there have been no counter-protesters at the Joplin restaurant, and Lee McDaniel, president of the Joplin Gay Lesbian Pride Center, said he wasn’t aware of any plans for protests or mass boycotts in town.
McDaniel said his group encourages people to spend their consumer dollars however they think best.
“We do distribute the Human Rights Campaign corporation index for corporations that are gay- and lesbian-friendly,” he said. “Obviously, Chick-fil-A is not on that.”
McDaniel said he thinks the local impact of the support day will be minimal. He said having the conversation about the issue will increase awareness, and therefore understanding and acceptance of same-sex marriage.
“Each person can make their own decisions, and regardless of Chick-fil-A’s position, acceptance of gays and lesbians is moving forward,” McDaniel said. “Marriage equality is inevitable. The expansion of civil rights is going to trump any religious, political or other philosophy that marginalizes gays and lesbians.”
Many area residents heard about the event through Facebook. For some, the issue was about free speech.
“I came because I don’t think anyone should be able to tell business owners what they should and shouldn’t believe, and if they ask a question and they answer it honestly, then they shouldn’t get bashed for it,” said Tori Morris, of Joplin. “I think they’re awesome and hope that God blesses them greatly.”
Jan Vance, of Joplin, said she ate at Chick-fil-A one time in the 1990s, but she has since boycotted the restaurant after friends told her the company’s position.
“I think that people are under the impression that gays are upset with what the CEO said and that we’re trying to inhibit his First Amendment rights, when what we’re really upset with is the way they’re spending the money through their foundation and where that money is going,” Vance said. “That’s upsetting to me because I keep seeing the issue trivialized. I can’t justify spending money on my own oppression.”
Republican Mike Moon, who is running against U.S. Rep. Billy Long in Missouri’s 7th Congressional District in next week’s primary election, stopped by the restaurant for lunch with a large campaign sign in the bed of his truck.
“We were out campaigning in Southwest Missouri, and we were hungry,” Moon said. “We knew there would be a big crowd at Chick-fil-A, and we like their food too. It’s very good. We want to support Chick-fil-A and their efforts.”
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this report.