Everyone elected officials and corporate CEOs included has the right to voice opinions on issues of the day, like gay marriage. But when politicians threaten to use government's power to enforce their views, they cross the line.
The Chick-fil-A controversy, even if it's a tad overblown, can serve as a lesson on the fundamentals of free speech.
The privately-owned chain of 1,600 restaurants has given millions of dollars over the years to organizations opposed to same-sex marriage. There's no evidence, however, that it discriminates against customers or employees based on that position.
CEO Dan Cathy refocused attention on his company's stand when he said last month that it backed the "biblical definition of the family unit" and that "we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.' "
Supporters of same-sex marriage were outraged, and some of their political allies eagerly piled on.
In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared that the company's values "are not Chicago's values" and strongly hinted that he would support an alderman in blocking the first free-standing Chick-fil-A in that city.
In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino sent a letter telling Cathy his company wasn't welcome and urging him to "back out of your plans to locate in Boston."
And in San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee tweeted last week that he was "very disappointed" that the chain doesn't share his city's "strong commitment to equality for everyone." He added a warning: "Closest #ChickFilA to San Francisco is 40 miles away & I strongly recommend that they not try to come any closer."
While these pols come off as clumsy thought police, people on both sides of the debate are showing the proper way to respond.
Wednesday, many Chick-fil-A restaurants, including in the Sacramento region, were swamped with customers showing their support for Cathy's stand, standing up for free speech, or both. The "appreciation day" helped the chain set a sales record, it says. Gay marriage supporters held "kiss day" protests outside Chick-fil-A restaurants.
If you choose where to eat based on a company's political views, as well as how good the food is or how much it costs, that's your call. Voting with your feet, or with your wallet, is an American tradition.
These mayors went way beyond even a boycott by suggesting that owners have to pass a political litmus test just to do business in their cities. Not only was it wrong, it backfired.
Indeed, it didn't take too long for Emanuel and Menino to realize their error. Both have backed away from the threats to block Chick-fil-A, as long the restaurant meets zoning and other requirements.
Lee also didn't intend to suggest he would take any government action, his spokesperson told The Sacramento Bee's editorial board on Thursday. She said that he was only exercising his free speech rights to make clear how vehemently he disagreed with Cathy.
Lee needs to remember that Cathy has those same rights.