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Chick-fil-A Abandons Texas Airport Location After Political Firestorm

Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A has lost interest in landing at San Antonio’s airport, despite Texas state officials’ efforts to force the city to accept the fast-food chain that’s known for its donations to anti-LGBTQ+ groups.

“We are always evaluating potential new locations in the hopes of serving existing and new customers great food with remarkable service,” Chick-fil-A said in a statement issued Monday, the Associated Press reports. “While we are not pursuing a location in the San Antonio airport at this time, we are grateful for the opportunity to serve San Antonians in our 32 existing restaurants.”

Since the San Antonio International Airport is city property, the City Council has a say in what companies can do business there. In March 2019, the City Council approved a new agreement for airport concessions that excluded a planned Chick-fil-A outlet. “San Antonio is a city full of compassion, and we do not have room in our public facilities for a business with a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior,” City Councilman Roberto Treviño said at the time.

That led the Texas legislature to pass a measure dubbed the “save Chick-fil-A bill,” aimed at preventing other cities from following San Antonio’s lead, and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law in June 2019. The legislation prohibits the state and its cities and counties from “punishing” individuals or businesses because of their membership in or donations to religious organizations, including anti-LGBTQ+ ones. But San Antonio had already nixed an airport location for Chick-fil-A, so the law didn’t change that.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, also a Republican who has, like Abbott, a long and strong anti-LGBTQ record, had a plan to address the San Antonio situation, however. Shortly after the City Council took its action, he filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation alleging that the city had discriminated against Chick-fil-A because of the closely held company’s religious principles. The Federal Aviation Administration, which is part of the DOT, began looking into the matter.

The FAA, instead of doing a full formal investigation, invited the city to negotiate a resolution to the complaint, which the city did, reaching an agreement in July of this year. San Antonio officials agreed to offer Chick-fil-A the opportunity to lease space at the airport, under “reasonable” terms that are “consistent with customary business practices,” according to an FAA letter.

Paxton did a victory lap Sunday on Fox & Friends Weekend, saying actions like the City Council vote last year were a violation of First Amendment rights to freedom of religion. But city officials said Paxton was exaggerating, giving the impression that the FAA ordered San Antonio to let Chick-fil-A into the airport.

“The FAA has not ordered the City of San Antonio to have Chick-fil-A at its airport,” said a statement issued Sunday by San Antonio leaders, according to local TV station KSAT. “The City itself offered to resolve the FAA investigation informally following Chick-fil-A’s publicly stated change-of-position on its charitable giving policy. The City maintains that at no point did it discriminate against Chick-fil-A. Any placement of Chick-fil-A at the San Antonio Airport is ultimately contingent on Chick-fil-A’s continued interest and approval by the City Council.”

And how much the company has changed its giving policy is open to question. Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos said in November that the company’s foundation had fulfilled multiyear commitments to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army, both of which have anti-LGBTQ+ policies or histories, and said none of the charities under consideration had such policies. Then he backtracked a bit, saying, “No organization will be excluded from future consideration — faith-based or non-faith-based,” without addressing if an organization’s stance on LGBTQ+ rights would be a concern.

At any rate, the matter is moot regarding the San Antonio airport. Also last year, two airports in upstate New York decided not to let Chick-fil-A nest there, and in 2018, officials at Rider University in New Jersey decided not to consider letting the company open an outlet on campus.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg is ready to move on. “Let’s put this behind us. It was one of an endless series of vendor contracts that come before City Council,” he said in a Monday statement, KSAT reports. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic and a recession. San Antonio has bigger issues on its agenda.”

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