Punishing Chick-fil-A and the Politics of Trolling

Punishing Chick-fil-A and the Politics of Trolling

 What exactly are we doing here?

Credit: Jonathan Weiss

“Closed on Sunday, You my Chick-fil-A.” So rapped Kanye West shortly before having a mental breakdown that led to his own cancellation. Now, it looks like Chick-fil-A’s practice of staying closed on Sunday is being canceled too.

In New York, State Rep. Tony Simone introduced a bill that “may force some of the Christian-founded chain restaurants located at rest stops along Interstate 90 to remain open on Sundays.” This is part of a larger plan to revamp the rest stops along the highway, affecting vendors using those spaces. As the bill itself puts it, the purpose is to “ensure that New York State’s transportation facilities offer a reliable source of food services.” Although Chick-fil-A isn’t called out by name, it’s clear that they’re being specifically targeted: “Allowing for retail space to go unused one seventh of the week or more is a disservice and unnecessary inconvenience to travelers who rely on these service areas.”

There are obvious and major problems with this. First, the government cannot treat Chick-fil-A chicken sandwiches as a right it must protect or a utility it must provide. They are a product being sold in a free market. This means that Chick-fil-A is free to sell its food however it wants, and its customers are free to patronize their stores or not. The New York legislature has no authority to tell the chain how to conduct business in any way—no matter how much its members might crave chicken sandwiches on their occasional Sunday commutes.

Second, the bill addresses a non-problem no one cares about. In a state grappling with issues like homelessness, violent crime, and housing illegal immigrants, Simone and other state representatives are working to assist travelers lacking additional junk food options on Sundays. Evidently, humiliating and possibly hurting Chick-fil-A is more important than fixing the rampant dysfunction that has driven out hundreds of thousands of New York residents over the years. 

Third, and most importantly, the First Amendment guarantees “the free exercise” of religion. The government cannot force a Christian organization to stay open on Sunday, just like it cannot force a Jewish organization to serve pork, or force a Muslim organization to wave Pride flags in June. Moreover, this doesn’t change if the organization happens to be a government contractor. As last year’s Supreme Court ruling in Carson v. Makin confirmed, governments can’t simply discriminate against all religious practice in the name of separating church and state. 

In light of these problems, one has to wonder why these politicians bother putting the bill forward at all, seeing that it doesn’t help anyone and is unconstitutional. Is the point really to troll conservatives and distract them from bigger problems in their lives?

As if to answer this very question, Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina has just thrown down the gauntlet, posting on X, “This is war.” Coming from a man known for supporting pointless wars, this is no idle threat. Already Graham is going to work crafting a bill “withholding federal funds from any city or state that requires @ChickfilA to stay open on Sunday.”  

Thus, in response to a stupid bill from Democrats that will almost certainly get amended or overturned, Republicans will write another stupid bill that will almost certainly not pass. Meanwhile, Americans of all political stripes will continue hating their legislators for being worthless dunces.

This might be amusing if it weren’t so expensive. After all, it costs a lot of money to host congressional hearings on mediocre college presidents, appeal anti-democratic laws, persecute political opponents, or fund the vast panoply of DEI sinecures. Billions of dollars that could secure the border, repair the country’s crumbling infrastructure, and improve the quality of life of all Americans is squandered on frivolous nonsense. 

Worse still, each instance of trolling threatens the nation’s constitutional order. What happens when it becomes possible to remove political candidates from running, force businesses and individuals to violate their religious beliefs, censor dissident speech, prohibit the execution of laws, or satisfy any number of tyrannical impulses? What happens when people really do respond with force, staging an actual coup d’etat (not a fake one) or assassinating vilified public figures? Do the people who cheer this on really think this will improve their lives or the country at large?

Not so long ago, Americans on both the left and right understood what was at stake when politicians and media outlets misused their power. Whether the goal was helping their neighbors or defending their freedom, it was never acceptable to break the rules for any reason. Now, any two-bit judge, district attorney, or state representative will happily break the rules to punish their opponent. And sure enough, political polarization continues to worsen, and both progressive and conservative commentators predict a national implosion in the near future. 

Hopefully, voters will make this connection as they head to the polls this coming year. Depending on what happens, it may be the last time they actually have a choice in the matter.

The post Punishing Chick-fil-A and the Politics of Trolling appeared first on The American Conservative.

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