A group of five plaintiffs — Patrick Von Dohlen, Brian Greco, Jason Khattar, Michael Knuffke, and Daniel Petri — have filed a lawsuit against the city over its decision to target and exclude Chick-fil-A from the city’s airport.
In March, San Antonio city councilman Robert Treviño led the charge to have the popular fast food restaurant excluded from the airport, alleging that the chain has a “legacy of anti-LGBT behavior” because of its donations to Christian ministries that believe marriage is only between one man and one woman.
The San Antonio City Council measure against Chick-fil-A passed in a 6-4 decision with one abstention.
Republicans in the Texas Legislature responded in May by passing SB 1978, widely known as the “Save Chick-fil-A” bill. Governor Abbott signed the bill into law the following month and it went into effect last week.
The new religious liberty law was written to prohibit the government from punishing individuals based on their religious affiliations or donations. It gives grounds for lawsuits against government entities if they take “adverse action” against someone based wholly or partly on their donations to a religious organization.
Several Democrats were outspoken in opposition to the bill, such as Representative Jessica González (D-Dallas), vice-chair of the Texas LGBTQ Caucus.
“This bill creates two classes of Texans,” said González, “those trying to get an education, make a living, support a family, and serve their community; and those with the power to deprive them of their dignity in their everyday lives.”
However, Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), the author of the bill, asserted that “there’s not an ounce of discrimination in [SB 1978].”
When asked about SB 1978 earlier in the year, Chick-fil-A Inc. stated, “Chick-fil-A was not involved with, nor did we organize any events related to, this bill in any way. We are a restaurant company focused on food and hospitality for all, and we have no social or political stance. We are grateful for all our customers and are glad to serve them at any time. We welcome and embrace all people, regardless of religion, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Last Thursday, a group of people who frequent the San Antonio airport filed a lawsuit against the city, which has continued to exclude Chick-fil-A from operating there.
The San Antonio Family Association (SAFA), a local pro-family group, is serving as the organizational arm for the plaintiffs and held a press conference on Monday.
The lawsuit asks the court to prohibit any vendor other than Chick-fil-A from using the space that had originally been reserved for them in the initial agreement between the city and Paradies Lagardère, which operates the retail space in the airport.
The plaintiffs also asked the court for an injunction ordering the city and Paradies Lagardère to install a Chick-fil-A in the 985-square-foot space.
“Any vendor that attempts to occupy this space should be on notice,” said plaintiff Patrick Von Dohlen. “The city’s efforts to replace Chick-fil-A violate state law and we are suing to stop this from happening. Any vendor that tries to replace Chick-fil-A could soon be facing an injunction that prevents them from operating.”
Allan Parker, an attorney and president of The Justice Foundation, said he was optimistic about the case.
“I’ve reviewed the pleadings in this case and I believe this is a very good lawsuit,” Parker told the press. “I think that this case has an extremely strong chance of winning at the Texas Supreme Court where it will ultimately end up if the city does not exercise wisdom in settling this lawsuit and doing the right thing in protecting the religious liberty of all their citizens.”
However, Laura Elizabeth Mayes, the chief communications officer with San Antonio, suggested the city has no intention of settling.
“This lawsuit is an attempt by the plaintiffs to improperly use the court to advance their political agenda,” she stated. “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. We will seek a quick resolution from the Court.”
Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values, was also at the press conference with the plaintiffs on Monday.
Asked if there was standing for the lawsuit since the law was created after the initial ban, Saenz replied, “[The city of San Antonio has] effectively continued the ban on Chick-fil-A at the airport and the law went into effect on September 1, so now that law is applicable and the San Antonio city council has to be accountable to that law.”
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.