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GOP wants probe of attempts to block 2nd city Chick-fil-A

Updated: September 3, 2012 1:17PM

The Republican Party tried Wednesday to cash in on the political controversy still swirling around the threat by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a North Side alderman to block Chick-fil-A from expanding in Chicago because of company president Dan Cathy’s public condemnation of gay marriage.

The city GOP filed a complaint with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan accusing Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) of violating state human rights laws with his threat to block Chick-fil-A from opening its first free-standing store in Logan Square because of Cathy’s stance.

Party vice-chairman Chris Cleveland argued that Chicago Democrats have long used government funding, zoning, permits and enforcement to “hammer” political opponents — and gotten away with it because it’s “difficult to prove.”

But Cleveland charged that Moreno’s public condemnation of Cathy’s religious beliefs — and Emanuel’s initial public support of Moreno — lifted the veil on the insidious practice that threatens to undermine religious freedom and the constitutional guarantee to free speech.

“Some have said Ald. Moreno and the mayor have dialed back on this. Well, the truth is, if you catch a mugger and the mugger apologizes and gives the money back, you still don’t decline to prosecute. The crime has occurred,” Cleveland said during a news conference at City Hall.

“If aldermen do this and they get away with it, it has a chilling effect. Businessmen get the message and they don’t make the campaign contributions that they want to … . If you disagree with the power structure, they will prevent you from doing business here.”

City GOP Chairman Adam Robinson added, “Zoning doesn’t need to actually be denied. It’s just the statement that it would be” that constitutes a violation of state law.

Moreno categorically denied violating state law and accused the GOP of “political grandstanding.” The alderman also rescinded the threat he made last week to keep Chick-fil-A out of his ward.

“This has never been about free speech or someone’s beliefs. Those are protected under federal law. They have the right to say what they want to say. I have concerns that those beliefs are transferred into discriminatory policy,” Moreno said.

“I’ve been in meetings with them for nine months asking, ‘Are you going to embrace a policy that does not discriminate?’ I never got a straight answer. Now, I have. They put out a Facebook post that said they would not discriminate. Let’s put it into their employee handbook. I want a face-to-face meeting with them to clarify it. I’m open to having them embrace that policy and having the store open.”

Last month, Cathy touched off a political firestorm when he was quoted as saying he was “guilty as charged” for supporting what he called the “biblical definition” of marriage as between a man and a woman.

His comments infuriated gay rights activists across the nation, prompting their political allies to take a stand against the company.

Emanuel hinted strongly that he was prepared to join Moreno in blocking Chick-fil-A’s planned expansion, arguing that, “Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago values” and “if you’re gonna be part of the Chicago community, you should reflect Chicago values.”

Conservatives promptly accused Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff now serving as co-chairman of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, of using a political litmus test to determine public policy.

That prompted the mayor to soften his early stance and say, “If they meet all the usual requirements, then they can open their restaurant.”

Madigan is not exactly an unbiased observer in the gay marriage debate.

She has joined State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and County Clerk David Orr in saying they are unwilling to defend in court the state’s ban on same-sex marriages. Madigan is also the daughter of the state’s most powerful Democrat, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago).

“Some have said that Attorney General Lisa Madigan is unwilling to investigate political corruption, particularly corruption in her own party. We are providing her with an opportunity to prove her critics wrong,” Cleveland said.

Maura Possley, a spokeswoman for Lisa Madigan, said the GOP complaint is currently under review.

Suzanne Devane, Republican committeeman of the 49th Ward, said the complaint was filed not for political theater, but to stop what she called a pattern of “government using its unique and overwhelming power to curtail the free expression of religion and the free exercise” of public expression.

Devane pointed to President Barack Obama’s decision not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act and the federal mandate tied to ObamaCare that requires most religiously affiliated employers to cover the cost of their employees’ birth control.

“Now, we have an American company whose founder believes in the traditional Judeo-Christian definition of marriage and he’s being told that he can’t open a second location in the city?” Devane said.

“It’s a tragedy that this erosion is being orchestrated by the Democratic Party in a bald attempt to curry political favor. … We need to safeguard religious freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of speech. We need to rein in those who would throw away our constitutional liberties just to win elections and garner a few campaign contributions.”

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