- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Federal Aviation Administration’s investigation of a Texas airport denying a contract to Chick-fil-A is part of the Trump administration’s effort to fight liberal city councils that punish the fast-food chain for its ties to conservative Christian groups, an administration official told The Washington Times on background.

The FAA earlier this year opened an investigation into whether the San Antonio City Council violated Chick-fil-A’s First Amendment rights when it blocked the fried chicken restaurant from obtaining a concessions contract at San Antonio International Airport.

A Trump administration official familiar with the matter said the investigation is “ongoing” and acknowledged that it could be the first of its kind by the FAA focused solely on religious liberty issues.

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“It may be a first, but it’s also the first time we’ve seen a city council straight up say, ‘We don’t like Chick-fil-A because they’re conservative,’” the official acknowledged.

A spokeswoman for San Antonio’s city government confirmed that the FAA investigation is underway in an email to The Times.

“The city has initiated contact with the FAA and we are cooperating with their investigation,” said Laura E. Mayes, chief communications officer with the City of San Antonio. “We are in the early stages of this process and we will continue to work with them toward a resolution.”

San Antonio’s city council isn’t the only public body accused of blackballing Chick-fil-A. In March, the management of Buffalo Niagara International Airport in New York disinvited Chick-fil-A after several officials, including a progressive state lawmaker, condemned the restaurant chain’s charitable giving.

“A publicly financed facility like the Buffalo Niagara International Airport is not the appropriate venue for a Chick-fil-A restaurant,” said New York Assemblyman Sean Ryan.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which oversees the Buffalo airport, did not respond to a request for comment.

The administration official confirmed that a separate inquiry into the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is underway, adding that, like other agencies that use public funds, airports are barred from discriminating against groups for their religious beliefs.

“You’re happy to take our money, but what about [complying with] the very normal things, like don’t discriminate?” the official said.

The federal Airport Improvement Program funds construction and expansion of airports across the country. According to an FAA press release in September, the program will provide more than $3 billion to 34 airports in 19 states, plus the U.S. Virgin Islands this year. For example, the San Antonio airport received $4.6 million from the FAA to increase its capacity.

Chick-fil-A did not respond to repeated requests for comment. In previous statements it has distanced itself from the FAA probe.

In 2012, Chick-fil-A founder Dan T. Cathy said the company supports the “biblical definition of the family unit” when it stopped donating money to political groups.

Meanwhile, the company’s operator, WinShape Foundation, has roiled progressives for its donations to Christian causes. According to charitable giving data from 2017, WinShape sent $1.65 million to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and $150,000 to the Salvation Army, two organizations that oppose same-sex marriage.

In response to the San Antonio controversy, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott this summer signed the “Save Chick-fil-A” bill, which makes it illegal to discriminate against a business because its owners donate to a church or other religiously affiliated organization.

A lawsuit filed in September by the San Antonio Family Association asked the court to declare that the city council had violated that new law. However, the law was not in place when the council blocked the fast-food chicken vendor’s contract at the airport.

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