The HHS mandate went into effect. Religious institutions have a year ‘to figure out how they’re going to violate their consciences’, as NY Cardinal Timothy Dolan put it. Other employers have to do it now. And on the same day, Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day was held across America. How are they connected?

Both events represented a line crossed with new limits on the ability to hold and express personal beliefs without government restriction.

The Becket Fund went to court that day filing an appeal for injunctive relief, and said this:

“Remember August 1, 2012.  Today begins a violation of American conscience like we have never seen before in our country, and Wheaton College personifies it,” said Kyle Duncan, General Counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.  “Everyone knows Wheaton is a school that lives out its faith.  But today our government is telling Wheaton it is not ‘religious enough’ to have a conscience, and so can be forced to participate in abortions or face heavy fines.  Wheaton’s only recourse is to ask the federal courts for emergency relief.”

Wheaton does not qualify for the one-year “safe harbor,” which the government offered to certain religious organizations as a temporary reprieve from the HHS mandate.  So, in a few short months, Wheaton faces the prospect of over a million dollars per year in fines and other penalties—unless it agrees to violate its core religious beliefs by providing insurance coverage for “emergency contraceptives” that they believe cause abortion.

“Wheaton’s employees are standing with the school but they are afraid,” said Duncan.  “Many employees have said that, if Wheaton is forced to terminate insurance coverage, they will not be able to afford health care for their families.  Wheaton has always provided generous employee benefits, but now the government is forcing it to choose between caring for its employees and honoring its faith.  The government should never be able to put anyone in that position.”

But by fiat, they are, defying previous boundaries to government intrustion into religious liberty and conscience rights.

The American Life League issued this warning on August 1st:

The president’s HHS Mandate redefines and marginalizes religious freedom in favor of government ideology. History tragically teaches us that if our government can abolish one constitutional right, then all constitutional rights are put in jeopardy.   This path sets a dangerous and foolish precedent that First Amendments rights such as freedom of speech, association, freedom of the press, and the rights to assemble and petition the government may be just as easily curtailed in the future.

The other big event that day was different in scope and scale and historic precedent, sort of. But it became a benchmark in American life and culture, as unlikely as the Chick-fil-A fiasco seemed when it first erupted.

Remember that heady time not so long ago when Americans concerned about the unintended consequences of same-sex marriage were told that we had nothing to fear because the redefinition of marriage to accommodate gays and lesbians would not affect our families or our freedoms? You and your churches and businesses can go on believing what you want about marriage, we were told; just let us do our thing and we’ll let you do yours.

How times have changed. In just a few short years, a movement once known for championing tolerance has become the epitome of intolerance. Using their culturally sanctioned victim status as cover, America’s gay-rights leaders have become the iron-fisted enforcers of a strict new speech code in which anyone who questions same-sex marriage is denounced as a hateful, homophobic bigot. Erstwhile pleas for “dialogue” about the best way to protect both the institution of marriage and gay and lesbian interests have been replaced by blatant bullying and vicious personal attacks.

She’s right.

Mayors in Chicago, Boston and San Francisco pronounced Chick-fil-A unwelcome in their communities…

The marriage views that prompted Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to denounce Chick-fil-A and its jobs as unwelcome in a city plagued by crime and unemployment apparently did not bother Emanuel when spouted by his former boss, President Barack Obama, who embraced same-sex marriage only three months ago. As for those “Chicago values” of which Chick-fil-A ran afoul, don’t ask Emanuel to explain how a family-owned company that graciously serves gays and lesbians along with anyone else willing to buy its chicken sandwiches offends Windy City ideals but anti-Semitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan — whom Emanuel embraced the same week he was chiding Chick-fil-A —does not.

Consistency never has been the strong suit of the marriage redefinition crowd. Nor has respect for diversity — if by the term one means ideological, not simply sexual, difference.

Still, the hostility, contempt and even outright bullying directed at those who oppose same-sex marriage has exploded…

That’s not an exaggeration.

One example:

As police and store employees grappled with graffiti that appeared overnight on the back wall of a Torrance Chick-fil-A, online supporters and protesters alike criticized the vandalism.

“Tastes like hate” was scrawled in large black lettering on the wall of the restaurant, mimicking the chain’s advertising.

“The Chick-Fil-A stores are all independently owned. Vandalism, like that in L.A., hurts the local owner who may not share Cathy’s views,”  a Twitter user…posted, referring to company President Dan Cathy’s recent public stand against same-sex marriage that has sparked a national uproar.

And btw…Dan Cathy didn’t take a public stand against same-sex marriage, which few have taken the time or trouble of researching the story to point out. He responded to a question by a Baptist press outlet whether he believed in the Biblical definition of marriage, and he replied that he did. Media have been irresponsible in their handling of this story.

But back to the vandalism on the outside of a LA franchise, spray-painted “Tastes like hate.”

“wow really?

(my sentiments exactly)

it’s one thing to protest Chick-fil-A but vandalism? im all for freedom of speech but this has gone too far,” (someone) wrote on Twitter. “Wow. So 2 wrongs make a right now days?” wrote another Twitter user from North Carolina.

Many wrongs. Here’s another.

A vandal spray painted an anti-hate message on a Des Peres [Missouri] Chick-Fil-A on Saturday in what appeared to be a response to the fast-food chain owners’ opposition to same-sex unions.

According to the store, someone spray painted “don’t hate” one of the store’s brick walls and “tastes like hate” on the drive-through path.

I’m embarrassed for all the good and upright citizens in the gay community who would never stoop to these low-grade intimidation tactics.

So here’s a learning moment, brought to us by someone who both stooped to the level of harrassment without thinking it through, and learned something from the response on the other side of the provocation.

A minor Internet sensation erupted this week when Adam Smith, former CFO and treasurer of medical supplies manufacturer Vante, videotaped himself bullying a Chick-fil-A drive-thru employee. Smith was fired by his company because of his behavior, but the young woman he harassed provided a model in how to respond to hateful speech.

In the video, initially titled “Reduce $’s to Chick-Fil-A’s Hate Groups,” Smith orders a “free water” from the Chick-fil-A drive thru for the purpose of insulting and harassing the young service worker. “I don’t know how you live with yourself and work here,” he tells the employee at the window. “I don’t understand it. This is a horrible corporation with horrible values. You deserve better.”

“I’m a nice guy, by the way . . . totally heterosexual,” he continues. “Not a gay in me, I just can’t stand the hate.”

Hate. Where do people get these ideas? They manufacture them. They generate them. Then they believe them.

The company that Smith works for issued a press release announcing that Smith is “no longer an employee of our company” and that they expect their “company officers to behave in a manner commensurate with their position and in a respectful fashion that conveys these values of civility with others.”

So the piece continues…

Such behavior has become all too common among those who support homosexual rights and will likely occur with increasing frequency in the future. But what makes the video noteworthy is the gentle and kind response of the Chick-fil-A employee.

I don’t know if, Rachel, the young woman in the video, is a Christian, but her response provides a helpful model for believers. Caught off guard in an uncomfortable and demeaning situation, she responds with civility and gentleness, expressing a desire to serve others. There’s a time to respond with arguments and persuasion and there are times when all that you can do is respond with kindness. Rachel has obviously developed the type of character that would allow her to quickly realize what response was needed.

And it was effective.

UPDATE: Mr. Smith apologized to Rachel and answered questions about his actions.

Look at both videos. It’s a remarkable transformation, the initial provocation and the effect of this young woman’s witness to dignity and respect. That update should be at least the same Internet sensation, but deservedly more.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....