San Antonio sued for excluding Chick-Fil-A from airport

Published: Sep. 10, 2019 at 9:46 AM CDT
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In a lawsuit citing a controversial new state law, five area residents are suing the city of San Antonio over its decision to prevent Chick-fil-A — a franchise known for opposing same-sex marriage — from opening a location in the city’s airport.

"The continued religious ban on Chick-fil-A by the San Antonio City Council has by left citizens with no choice but to take this case to court," Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values Action, said Monday at a news conference with the plaintiffs in announcing the lawsuit. "Any other vendor that tries to replace Chick-fil-A at the airport will be doing so under a major cloud of long and costly litigation with the city.”

State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, who sponsored the bill in the House, said it affects all Texans when a local government oversteps its bounds and infringes on religious liberties. He said he hopes this law will show that the government should not be in the business of punishing companies or people for their religious beliefs or affiliations.

“Hopefully his bill will be a reminder for many and a deterrent for others so that we don't have another situation like we had in San Antonio,” Krause said.

In March, Chick-Fil-A was blocked from opening a restaurant in the San Antonio airport after opposition from City Council members for what one member called a “legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior.”

The issue then made its way to the Legislature, where SB 1978 passed over the objections of Democrats. The legislation, which proponents referred to as the "Save Chick-Fil-A bill," originally included a provision that would have empowered the Texas attorney general to sue San Antonio for excluding the Christian-owned chicken franchise from its airport. The state filed suit against the city in June for access to public records regarding an investigation into the city's exclusion of Chick-Fil-A.

The lawsuit, which also seeks the city to pay the plaintiffs' legal fees, calls for an injunction preventing San Antonio from taking adverse action against Chick-Fil-A or others “based wholly or partly on that person or entity’s support for religious organizations that oppose homosexual behavior.”

It cites Senate Bill 1978, a law passed this year in the Texas Legislature, that outlaws government retaliation based on “membership in and support to religious organizations.”

Laura Mayes, chief communications officer for the city of San Antonio, said in an email that the lawsuit "is an attempt by the plaintiffs to improperly use the court to advance their political agenda."

"Among the many weaknesses in their case, they are trying to rely on a law that did not exist when Council voted on the airport concessions contract," Mayes said. "We will seek a quick resolution from the Court.”

State Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, chairwoman of the Legislature's LBGTQ caucus, said in a statement that it is disappointing that SB 1978 has "created the space for discriminatory lawsuits, such as the one against San Antonio" and commended San Antonio City Council for supporting inclusion.

"LGBTQ Texans are routinely denied fair and equal access to education, healthcare, housing, and economic opportunity — that is what the government should be protecting Texans from," González said.