Now, a lawsuit that citizens brought against the city for the restaurant’s removal has reached the Texas Supreme Court. The requested response is due in March, almost two years to the week that the San Antonio City Council booted the chain from the airport.
The council voted in March 2019 to remove Chick-fil-A at the proposal of Councilman Roberto Trevino, citing the company’s opposition to gay marriage. The measure passed 6-4.
The case’s rise has drawn the attention of conservative advocacy group Texas Values, the Texas Pastor Council, and Governor Greg Abbott. All have filed amicus briefs in support of the citizens suing San Antonio.
Meanwhile, the Chick-fil-A company has kept quiet.
After antagonism welled against the famous chain for its support of Christian organizations, company leadership decided to stop donations to the Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes in an effort to pacify critics. Chick-fil-A also decided not to come back to the airport even after an investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cleared the runway for their return.
The company has avoided involvement in the legal dogfight now reaching the Supreme Court of Texas, which began when a group of four San Antonians sued the city four days after the “Save Chick-fil-A” bill took effect.
When asked about the bill itself last year, the company 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.”
The “Save Chick-fil-A bill” is meant to protect businesses that operate with religious convictions. Carried by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) in the Texas Senate and Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) in the Texas House, the law bars governmental bodies from targeting individuals or organizations for their religious beliefs.
“Notwithstanding any other law, a governmental entity may not take any adverse action against any person based wholly or partly on the person’s membership in, affiliation with, or contribution, donation, or other support provided to a religious organization,” the text reads.
After an initial victory for the four San Antonians at district court, a lower appeals court ruled against them, validating the city’s claim of governmental immunity on the grounds that “a contract made for the benefit of the state” shields the government from legal attack.
“A plaintiff alleging the government and its officers are acting without legal or statutory authority may seek declaratory and injunctive relief… While such a suit generally does not implicate governmental immunity, governmental immunity will preclude the suit if its purpose or effect is to cancel or nullify a contract made for the benefit of the state,” the ruling reads.
“In other words, where ‘the only plausible remedy’ for the plaintiff’s claim is invalidation of a government contract, governmental immunity bars both suit and liability.”
Broadly, governmental immunity means that a government body cannot commit a legal wrong or be sued without a waiver from the legislature. Quoting from previous case law dating as far back as 1847, the appeals court opinion describes it as a protection that keeps “the state from being sued in her own courts without her consent… Political subdivisions of the state, including cities, are entitled to such immunity — referred to as governmental immunity — unless it has been waived.”
Hughes and Krause made governmental immunity one of their bill’s prime targets. One section of the code specifically waives it: “A person who alleges a violation of Section 2400.002 may sue the governmental entity for the relief provided under Section 2400.003. Sovereign or governmental immunity, as applicable, is waived and abolished to the extent of liability for that relief.”
In their petition to the Supreme Court of Texas, the four plaintiffs struck back at this supposed exception to the law in the appeals ruling.
“The court of appeals allowed the city to assert a governmental-immunity defense in a case where governmental immunity had been ‘waived and abolished’ by statute. The rule of law cannot exist if courts are allowed to defy the language of enacted statutes in this fashion,” their petition reads.
“The Court should grant the petition for review and remind courts throughout this state that there is no ‘political correctness exception’ to their obligation to follow the commands of legislative enactments.”