'Eat mor chikin' or not?

See if you can guess the source of this news article:

ATLANTA -- The Chick-fil-A sandwich -- a hand-breaded chicken breast and a couple of pickles squished into a steamy, white buttered bun -- is a staple of some Southern diets and a must-have for people who collect regional food experiences the way some people collect baseball cards.

New Yorkers have sprinted through the airport here to grab one between flights. College students returning home stop for one even before they say hello to their parents.

But never on Sunday, when the chain is closed.

Nicknamed "Jesus chicken" by jaded secular fans and embraced by Evangelical Christians, Chick-fil-A is among only a handful of large American companies with conservative religion built into its corporate ethos. But recently its ethos has run smack into the gay rights movement.

OK, here are your choices: Did this article run in The Onion -- America's Finest News Source -- or The New York Times?

The correct answer would be the Times. Read the full story.

Now, I must acknowledge my bias right here at the top: I am a big fan of Chick-fil-A -- the fried chicken, that is. My family eats chicken biscuits there most every Saturday morning. Once every week or two, I go through the drive-through at lunchtime and usually order a 12-pack nugget meal. My local Chick-Fil-A has so much traffic at noontime that a handful of employees direct traffic outside the store and the call in advance orders to keep the lines of cars moving.

However, I must confess something else, too: I've never heard anyone refer to Chick-fil-A chicken sandwiches as "Jesus chicken." I am well aware that Chick-fil-A closes on Sundays and respect that decision, even though I frequent many other restaurants that choose to serve the after-church crowd. On a recent morning visit to Chick-fil-A, I noticed a manager reading his Bible during his break. This did not offend me. Then again, I am a Bible-believing Christian.

Back to the Times' article: The news peg is that a Chick-fil-A in Pennsylvania -- one of the chain's 1,500-plus locations in 39 states -- agreed to provide free sandwiches to a group that promotes traditional families and opposes same-sex marriages. This lit up gay blogs and prompted some university students across the nation to try to get the chain removed from their campuses, the newspaper reports.

The coverage prompted Chick-fil-A's president and COO to issue a lengthy statement, including this:

In recent weeks, we have been accused of being anti-gay. We have no agenda against anyone. At the heart and soul of our company, we are a family business that serves and values all people regardless of their beliefs or opinions. We seek to treat everyone with honor, dignity and respect, and believe in the importance of loving your neighbor as yourself.

We also believe in the need for civility in dialogue with others who may have different beliefs. While my family and I believe in the Biblical definition of marriage, we love and respect anyone who disagrees.

The Times' 1,300-word report itself seems to give a fair hearing to Chick-fil-A and provides a variety of customer (and non-customer) voices: a lesbian who wonders if loving Chick-fil-A makes you "a bad gay," a devout Christian dental hygienist who is outspoken in her support of Chick-fil-A, a non-religious Chick-fil-A customer who thinks the outcry seems like overkill and a "Big Gay Ice Cream Truck" operator who wants people to make informed decisions about their food.

But in reading the story, I just couldn't shake the feeling that this piece belonged in The Onion, not the Times.

I mean, Chick-fil-A's Christian ethos isn't exactly breaking news. Watchdogs inclined to accuse the mainstream media of liberal bias wasted little time in doing so in this case (see here and here). The Weekly Standard weighed in with a piece titled "The Left's Latest Target: Chick-fil-A?" In Chick-fil-A's hometown, the Times story prompted this follow-up by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

At The Chronicle of Higher Education, Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, raised questions about the effort to kick Chick-fil-A off campuses. His questions might apply, as well, to the issue of whether this brouhaha rises to the level of national news:

So far as I can tell, no one has accused Chick-fil-A of discriminating against gays and lesbians in its employment practices or its customer service. The incident that sparked the boycott campaign was a Pennsylvania Chick-fil-A restaurant's provision of sandwiches and brownies to a marriage seminar put on by the Pennsylvania Family Institute -- a group that opposes gay marriage and has been characterized by activists as anti-gay. The seminar in Harrisburg is "The Art of Marriage: Getting to the Heart of God's Design." Presumably Chick-fil-A contributes to other groups that hold similar views. Does that really provide a sound reason to those who favor gay marriage to drive Chick-fil-A off campus?

I think not. The campaign is unwise because it seeks to punish and stigmatize those with whom the protesters disagree. The ideal of the campus as a place where people debate their differences by means of rational arguments and well-vetted evidence has been on a downward trajectory for decades. Kicking Chick-fil-A off campus is a reductio ad absurdum of the now-common tactic of roaring at your supposed opponents. The company, after all, isn't busy on campus promoting an anti-gay marriage agenda. It's just selling chicken sandwiches.

That's just one perspective, of course. This is how the expert quoted by the Times described the situation (cue the dramatic music, please):

With its near-national reach and its transparent conservative Christian underpinnings, Chick-fil-A is a trailblazer of sorts, said Lake Lambert, the author of "Spirituality, Inc." and dean of the college of liberal arts at Mercer University, where he teaches Christianity.

"They're going in a direction we haven't seen in faith-based businesses before, and that is to a much broader marketing of themselves and their products," he said. "This is possibly the next phase of evangelical Christianity's muscle flexing."

(The Times uppercased "Evangelical" in the first reference and lowercased it in the second. Not sure which is proper Times style, although I think lowercasing it is the right approach.)

Now, GetReligion readers, it's your turn to play Times editor: Is this national news worthy of 1,300 words in the A section on Sunday? Or do you leave the coverage of this story to The Onion? Remember, we are concerned about journalistic issues and will spike comments from advocates.

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