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Investigation Reveals Depth of Chick-Fil-A's Ties to Anti-Gay Causes

March 22, 2011 10:04 am ET by Tom Allison, Carlos Maza, & Christine Schwen

Chick-fil-a

When two Missouri organizations, the Clayton Chamber of Commerce and FOCUS St. Louis, decided earlier this month to cancel a presentation by Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy over his company's controversial affiliations, they made the right decision. Although Cathy has unequivocally denied being anti-LGBT and claimed that he and the company have "no agenda against anyone" and "will not champion any political agendas on marriage and family," Equality Matters research proves just the opposite. In fact, the company has strong, deep ties to anti-gay organizations like Focus on the Family and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and its charitable division has provided more than $1.1 million to organizations that deliver anti-LGBT messages and promote egregious practices like reparative therapy that seek to "free" people of being gay. 

The matter grabbed headlines in January after a Pennsylvania Chick-fil-A restaurant sponsored a "traditional marriage" event by providing food to attendees of "The Art of Marriage: Getting to the Heart of God's Design." Cathy dismissed the controversy as a localized incident that was not indicative of the company's corporate culture. "In recent weeks, we have been accused of being anti-gay," Cathy said in a written statement. "We have no agenda against anyone. While my family and I believe in the Biblical definition of marriage, we love and respect anyone who disagrees."

Chick-fil-A runs 1,530 restaurants in 39 states and a company spokesperson said gross sales for 2010 will most likely top $3.5 billion, according to The New York Times.

KEY FINDINGS:

1. Chick-Fil-A Charitable Arm Winshape: Over $1.1M Given To Anti-Gay Groups

2. Chick-Fil-A Reportedly Favors Married Employees, Investigates Their Personal Lives

3. Chick-Fil-A's Partnership With Focus On The Family

4. Chick-Fil-A's Sponsorship Of Anti-Gay Hate Group Affiliate

5. WinShape's "Traditional Marriage" Activities

6. More Background On The Controversy

1. Winshape: Over $1.1M Given To Anti-Gay Groups

The WinShape Foundation is Chick-fil-A's charitable arm, created by Chick-fil-A founder and chairman S. Truett Cathy in 1984. WinShape has received a substantial amount of funding from Chick-fil-A: in 2008 alone, WinShape received $12,595,819 from Chick-fil-A Inc. [WinShape 2008 Publicly Available IRS 990 Form via Foundation Center, accessed 2/8/11; Chick-fil-A, accessed 2/8/11

WinShape oversees a number of programs intended to foster the "growth and education of young people" as well as to promote "healthy marriages and strong families." But an examination of the WinShape Foundation's publicly available IRS 990 forms reveals that the WinShape Foundation supports a wide variety of anti-equality groups. [WinShape Fact Sheet, accessed 2/4/11]

TOTAL WINSHAPE DONATIONS: $1.1M ($1,142,450) to anti-gay groups from 2003-2008, the last year for which public records are available.

  • National Christian Foundation: $631,600
  • Fellowship Of Christian Athletes: $480,000
  • Serving Marriages, Inc.: $15,000
  • Alliance Defense Fund: $5,000
  • Christian Camp And Conference Association: $5,000
  • Campus Crusade for Christ: $2,850
  • Georgia Family Council: $2,000
  • Family Research Council: $1,000

[WinShape IRS Form 990 via Foundation Center, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008; figures added by organization for clarity]

$631,600 to National Christian Foundation

The National Christian Foundation is a grant-making foundation that has made "hundreds of grants" to anti-gay groups like Focus on the Family, Family Life, and the Family Research Council, according to the Philanthropy Roundtable's publication "Reviving Marriage In America: Strategies for Donors." NCF allows donors to direct their donations and has experienced a surge in interest among donors in funding marriage-related giving. [Philanthropy Roundtable, accessed 2/8/11].

WinShape donations to NCF:

  • 2006: $172,500 [WinShape 2006 Publicly Available IRS 990 Form via Foundation Center, accessed 2/8/11]
  • 2007: $187,500 [WinShape 2007 Publicly Available IRS 990 Form via Foundation Center, accessed 2/8/11]
  • 2008: $271,600 [WinShape 2008 Publicly Available IRS 990 Form via Foundation Center, accessed 2/8/11]

$480,000 to Fellowship of Christian Athletes

Every year, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) holds a National College Conference that the conference Director, Danny Burns, described as where "God freed some people from homosexuality, sexual sins, addictions and even ushered newcomers into His Kingdom". [Fellowship of Christian Athletes, accessed 2/8/11]

The application to become an FCA Ministry Leader requires applicants to agree with the FCA's Sexual Purity Statement, which condemns gays as engaging in an "Impure Lifestyle":

God desires His children to lead pure lives of holiness. The Bible is clear in teaching on sexual sin including sex outside of marriage and homosexual acts. Neither heterosexual sex outside of marriage nor any homosexual act constitute an alternate lifestyle acceptable to God. [FCA Application, accessed 2/8/11

The FCA website also includes a testimonial from a coach who had been "delivered" away from homosexuality. [FCA, accessed 2/8/11]

WinShape donations to FCA:

  • 2007: $240,000 [WinShape 2007 Publicly Available IRS 990 Form via Foundation Center, accessed 2/8/11]
  • 2008: $240,000 [WinShape 2008 Publicly Available IRS 990 Form via Foundation Center, accessed 2/8/11]

$15,000 to Serving Marriages Inc.

Serving Marriages is an organization focused on honoring God through building "Biblically accurate marriage models for society to pattern." Serving Marriages' ministry advisers include WinShape, The Marriage CoMission, and the Georgia Family Council, all of which are established as promoting anti-LGBT work in this document. [Serving Marriages, accessed 2/8/11]

WinShape donations:

  • 2008: $15,000 [WinShape 2008 Publicly Available IRS 990 Form via Foundation Center, accessed 2/8/11]

$5,000 to Alliance Defense Fund

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) is aggressively anti-gay, labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as one of America's most influential groups fighting against LGBT equality. In a recent article, the ADF called efforts to advance LGBT equality "The principal threat to your religious freedom":

Their strategy is twofold: dilute moral values so that homosexual behavior is thought to be normal, natural, and good, while suppressing the religious and free speech rights of those who disagree. If they successfully impose their radical legal agenda, then all people - especially Christians - who do not affirm homosexual behavior could be silenced, punished, and possibly even jailed for so-called discrimination and intolerance. [Southern Poverty Law Center, Spring 2005; Alliance Defense Fund, accessed 2/8/11]

WinShape donations to ADF:

  • 2006: $2,500 [WinShape 2007 Publicly Available IRS 990 Form via Foundation Center, accessed 2/8/11]
  • 2008: $2,500 [WinShape 2008 Publicly Available IRS 990 Form via Foundation Center, accessed 2/8/11]

$5,000 to Christian Camp and Conference Association

The Christian Camp and Conference Association (CCCA) is an organization that encourages member organizations to hold Christian camps and conferences. It also offers advice on how to improve the "performance and impact" of these camps. [CCCA, accessed 2/9/11] [WinShape 2006 Publicly Available IRS 990 Form via Foundation Center, accessed 2/8/11]

The CCCA advises camp counselors to resist today's "media-led promotion of alternative lifestyles," and prepares them to effectively convey why homosexuality is wrong to campers. [CCCA Focus Series, accessed 2/8/11]

WinShape donations to CCCA:

  • 2006: $5,000 [WinShape 2006 Publicly Available IRS 990 Form via Foundation Center, accessed 2/8/11]

$2,850 to Campus Crusade for Christ

The anti-gay Family Life, which hosted the "Art of Marriage" event that ignited the controversy, is a Ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. [CCCI, accessed 2/8/11] [WinShape 2004 Publicly Available IRS 990 Form via Foundation Center, accessed 2/8/11]

WinShape donations to CCC:

  • 2004: $2,850 [WinShape 2004 Publicly Available IRS 990 Form via Foundation Center, accessed 2/8/11]

$2,000 to Georgia Family Council

The Georgia Family Council is a typical anti-gay group: its website contains posts arguing in favor of California's Proposition 8 and criticizing Apple for removing an application that promotes the argument that marriage equality is a threat to children and traditional marriage. [Georgia Family Council, 1/21/11; Georgia Family Council, accessed 2/8/11]

Randy Hicks, president of the Georgia Family Council (GFG), is a vocal critic of marriage equality; he has argued gay marriage would harm children and undermine traditional marriages. [By Faith, October 2006]

WinShape donations to GFC:

  • 2005: $2,000 [WinShape 2005 Publicly Available IRS 990 Form via Foundation Center, accessed 2/8/11]

$1,000 to Family Research Council

The Family Research Council has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its misleading attacks on the LGBT community. [The Washington Times, 11/24/10]

WinShape donations to FRC:

  • 2003: $1,000 [WinShape 2003 Publicly Available IRS 990 Form via Foundation Center, accessed 2/8/11]

2. Chick-Fil-A Reportedly Favors Married Employees, Investigates Their Personal Lives

Chick-Fil-A's Employment Practices Are Hostile Towards "Sinful" Candidates. Chick-fil-A requires potential franchise operators to disclose their marital status, number of dependents, and involvement in social, church, and other organizations. Employees may be fired for engaging in "sinful" behavior, and Truett Cathy has said he aims to hire workers who are married:

Loyalty to the company isn't the only thing that matters to Cathy, who wants married workers, believing they are more industrious and productive. One in three company operators have attended Christian-based relationship-building retreats through WinShape at Berry College in Mount Berry, Ga. The programs include classes on conflict resolution and communication. Family members of prospective operators--children, even--are frequently interviewed so Cathy and his family can learn more about job candidates and their relationships at home. "If a man can't manage his own life, he can't manage a business," says Cathy, who says he would probably fire an employee or terminate an operator who "has been sinful or done something harmful to their family members." [Forbes, 2/23/07]

3. Chick-Fil-A's Partnership With Focus On The Family

From October to November of 2005, Chick-fil-A partnered with Focus on the Family and Digital Praise Inc. to give away free interactive CDs of Focus on the Family's radio program Adventures in Odyssey, which presents kids with "important moral and biblical principles," with every Chick-fil-A Kid's Meal. [Digital Praise, 10/17/05]

Focus on the Family is notoriously anti-gay, promoting the theory that gays and lesbians can change their sexual orientation and arguing that homosexuality "violates God's intentional design for gender and sexuality." [Focus on the Family, accessed 2/8/11]

4. Sponsorship Of Anti-Gay Hate Group Affiliate

Since 2008, Chick-fil-A has been a sponsor of All Pro Dad, a program created by the Tampa-based organization Family First, also known as the "Florida Family Council." The Florida Family Council is an affiliate of the American Family Association, which has been designated as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. [The Gospel According to Disney, 2004; SPLC, Spring 2005]

  • Chick-fil-A Sponsors All Pro Dad. [Chick-fil-A, accessed 2/4/11; Voice of Reason, No.3, 2005]
  • Family First Is Actually The Florida Family Council. [Trademarkia, accessed 2/4/11 and 2/4/11]
  • Florida Family Council is an Affiliate of the American Family Association [The Gospel According to Disney,2004];
  • SPLC designated the American Family Association an anti-gay hate group [SPLC, Spring 2005]

In 1995, the Florida Family Council opposed Disney's decision to extend health benefits to the partners of gay and lesbian employees, helping draft a letter then called the decision "anti-family" and inappropriate for a company that provides "wholesome, family-oriented entertainment." [LA Times, 10/19/95]

Mark Merrill, Florida Family Council president, has been a vocal critic of marriage equality. In an interview with NPR in 1996, he criticized Disney for putting domestic partnerships "on a same footing with heterosexual marriage":

What they're doing is they're putting domestic partnerships between homosexuals on a same footing with heterosexual marriage, an institution that's been honored for thousands of years.

[...]

It's a real disappointment. Families have flocked to Walt Disney World and Disneyland because they knew that Walt Disney respected and nurtured the traditional American family and its strong moral values, and Disney could always be counted on to provide parents and children alike with a family-friendly entertainment and environment. [NPR via Nexis, 4/26/96] 

5. WinShape's "Traditional Marriage" Activities

WinShape's Programs Are Offered Only To Traditional Couples

Following the initial controversy over Chick-fil-A's connection to the Pennsylvania Family Institute, the Good As You website posted an email discussion between the WinShape Retreat and someone asking if the programs offered there were open to same-sex couples. WinShape made it clear that it's programs were meant to promote a biblical standard of marriage:

[Good As You, 1/26/11]

WinShape Partners With The Marriage CoMission

The WinShape Foundation works with the Marriage CoMission, a coalition of groups formed in response to the decline of "the traditional family in America." Since its inception, the CoMission has been supported by anti-gay activists such as Exodus International's Alan Chambers and Citizens for Community Values' Barry Sheets. [Marriage CoMission, accessed 2/4/11, Marriage CoMission, accessed 2/4/11]

Every year since 2003, WinShape has hosted the Marriage CoMission's annual Marriage CoMission Strategy Summit at its Georgia retreat. WinShape spent $18 million over the past several years renovating the retreat center in order to hold seminars and conferences relating to marriage. [Marriage CoMission, accessed 2/4/11; Rome News-Tribune, 2004]

The summit has served as a meeting ground for anti-gay activists. Notorious anti-gay attendants include NOM's Maggie Gallagher - who gave a speech on "Marriage and Public Policy," Ruth Institutes' Jennifer Morse, Institute for American Values' David Blankenhorn, and Focus on the Family president Jim Daly.

  • [2008 Summit Participant Biography List, accessed 2/4/11]
  • [2009 Summit Participant Biography List, accessed 2/4/11]
  • CoMission Summit Agenda Includes Session on "marriage and Public Policy by Maggie Gallager [Good As You, 1/30/11]

The Good As You blog has also collected a number of clips of the 2008 Marriage CoMission summit that demonstrate an anti-gay bias:

  • WinShape's Jeff Fray stated that at WinShape "we're not arguing about if marriage is between men and women, that's what we're about. Resting on the truth that kids do best when raised under the same roof with mom and dad in a healthy relationship." He added that this principle is the CoMission Summit's "center of gravity." [MarriageCoMission.com, accessed 2/16/11, via Good As You, 1/11/11]
  • Fray also wanted to praise David Blankenhorn for his "masterful job articulating" the argument against marriage equality that would allow them to "get the message into the culture much more effectively": [MarriageCoMission.com, accessed 2/16/11, via Good As You, 1/11/11]
  • Anti-gay film activist Ted Baehr also spoke about the threat teachers teaching students that a "biblical view" of marriage is "evil." [MarriageCoMission.com, accessed 2/16/11, via Good As You, 1/11/11

6. Background On The Controversy

Local Chick-Fil-A Sponsored Anti-Gay Group's Marriage Event

In January, a local Chick-fil-A restaurant in Pennsylvania donated food to the group Family Life to put on an event called the "The Art of Marriage: Getting to the Heart of God's Design." Both Chick-fil-A and co-sponsor Pennsylvania Family Institute (PFI) were originally listed as sponsors of the "Art Of Marriage" event, although Chick-fil-A scrubbed its name from the event's advertisements after the controversy began. Both PFI and Family life are virulently anti-gay. [New York Times,2/14/11; Joe. My. God., 1/4/11]

Chick-Fil-A's President Released A Statement Denying The Company's Ties To Anti-Gay Groups.

In response to the controversy, Chick-fil-A president and COO Dan Cathy released a statement denying that Chick-fil-A's donation was an endorsement of traditional marriage, arguing that Chick-fil-A has "no agenda against anyone," and that the company would not "champion any political agendas" relating to marriages or families. [PR Newswire, 1/29/11]

After Controversy, Event Sponsor Scrubbed Website Of Anti-Gay Rhetoric

PFI's anti-gay history is well known. In 2010, the group worked to kill a state bill that would have prohibited discrimination against LGBT people in housing, employment, and public accommodations, and a lawyer for PFI, argued that discrimination against gay and lesbians was a "moral choice." [Delaware County Times12/23/10]

However, following the controversy Family Life attempted to scrub their anti-gay rhetoric from their website. Following are articles from the website that were since scrubbed, but are still available in Google's cache:

  • "Help! My Child is a Homosexual," which spotlights an interview with Alan Chambers, president of the ex-gay group Exodus International:

Alan [Chambers]:  The gay community has done an incredible job of twisting Scripture, researching things to where they can twist it a certain way, manipulate it a certain way, talk about issues, and change them into something that they really aren't. And the Christian community needs to get back to their Bible. They need to understand what the truth is, what is it - what was it with David and Jonathan? What does the original text say? What is it about the word "homosexuality" in our translation today? [Image captured from FamilyLife.com via Google cache, 2/15/11, emphasis added]

  • "Teaching Your Teen About God's Views on Sex," written by the CEO and co-founder of FamilyLife, which encourages parents to warn kids about the "homosexual element" in our culture:

These days our media bombard us with the idea that God created and blesses other kinds of sex, like that practiced by homosexuals. You will need to share with your child that there is a radical homosexual element in our culture saying, "We're going to be in your face. You're going to see us kissing on television and in movies. We want to become acceptable."

Our children must know that just because some group wants to validate their behavior, that does not make it right in God's eyes. Our children need to learn how to hate the sin (see Romans 1:26—27) while loving the sinner. [Image captured from FamilyLife.com via Google Cache, images captured from cache 2/16/11, emphasis added]

  • "Gender Identity," which identifies "[w]hat we can do as parents to make sure our children aren't led into the sin of homosexuality" with Alan Medinger, the head of an "ex-gay ministry" called Regeneration:

Bob [Lebine]: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, February 25th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Today we have some practical suggestions for parents on how we can steer our kids way from the gay lifestyle.

[...]

Bob: Well, I wanted to ask you about this, because there are whole churches, there are denominations, some mainline Protestant denominations that have said homosexuality is acceptable at some level. There is at least one denomination, the Metropolitan Community Churches all around the country, that appeal primarily to homosexuals, and they not only say it's acceptable, they celebrate their homosexuality.

You are saying when a person comes to faith in Christ, that's incompatible with homosexuality. How do you respond to these folks who say no it's not?

Alan Medinger, founder of the ex-gay ministry Regeneration]: Well, the church had one teaching on homosexuality for probably 1,950 years. It was about 40 or 50 years ago that some people started to reinterpret the scriptural passages with reference to homosexuality. But prior to that, whether you were Roman Catholic or Orthodox or evangelical or Pentecostal, it was very clear what God had said about our sexuality - one man, one woman within a lifetime commitment to each other, and any other form of sexual behavior was outside of God's will. [Image captured from FamilyLife.com via Google cache, 2/16/11, emphasis added]