Written by Don Byrd

Chick-Fil-A’s owner is well known for running the business in accordance with his religious views and has not shied away from expressing his opposition to same-sex marriage. That reputation has not settled well with some local governments who contract with the restaurant to be an airport vendor. As I posted earlier, the San Antonio City Council voted to exclude Chick-Fil-A from its airport. Buffalo, New York made a similar decision. Now, those exclusions have gotten the attention of the Department of Transportation. The FAA has announced an investigation into the actions of both cities to determine if they amount to improper discrimination on the basis of religion.

The Atlanta Business Chronicle reports:

In a statement sent to Atlanta Business Chronicle Tuesday, the FAA said it had “received complaints alleging discrimination by two airport operators against a private company due to the expression of the owner’s religious beliefs.”

“FAA’s Office of Civil Rights has notified the San Antonio International Airport and Buffalo Niagara International Airport that it has opened investigations into these complaints,” according to an FAA statement. “The FAA notes that Federal requirements prohibit airport operators from excluding persons on the basis of religious creed from participating in airport activities that receive or benefit from FAA grant funding. The findings of the investigations will be communicated to the complainants once the investigations are completed.”

The announcement follows the opening of an investigation by the Texas Attorney General into the San Antonio decision.

A similar dispute is playing out in East Lansing, Michigan, where a court has ordered, pending the outcome of a religious discrimination lawsuit, the city’s Farmer’s Market to allow a vendor access after he was excluded for refusing to host same-sex weddings. A federal judge is now considering summary judgment motions brought by both parties and is expected to rule soon.

With the caveat that these situations are different, is this a new frontier in religious liberty litigation? Do local governments have a responsibility to contract with secular businesses whose policies do not align with government interests when those policies are motivated by the owner’s religious beliefs? Stay tuned.