AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Texas' attorney general opened an investigation Thursday into San Antonio's decision to exclude Chick-fil-A from opening airport concession facilities due to the fast-food chain owners' record on LGBT issues.
Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the investigation in a letter to San Antonio officials and stated his office will examine whether Texas' second-largest city violated state law with the rejection. Paxton called the move "the opposite of tolerance" and a "discriminatory decision" based on the religious beliefs of the chain's owners.
"The Constitution's protection of religious liberty is somehow even better than Chick-fil-A's chicken," Paxton said in the letter. "Unfortunately, I have serious concerns that both are under assault at the San Antonio airport."
The attorney general's action comes after the San Antonio City Council voted 6-4 last week to block Chick-fil-A from getting a new concession contract at the airport. The councilmembers voted instead for city staff to find another company for the contract.
"The City's Attorney's Office is reviewing the letter. I am withholding comment until we have had adequate time to analyze it," San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in an emailed statement.
Councilman Manny Pelaez said at the meeting that Chick-fil-A has a history of funding anti-LGBTQ organizations that support and advocate for gay conversion therapy. Pelaez said approving the restaurant would "help them fund those efforts by making money off of our airport."
Dallas constitutional law attorney David Coale says in this case the city is running a business.
“When you are in the business space, running an airport, city will have more latitude because it is not functioning in a governmental policy rule-making way then. It's a little bit more like a private actor,” Coale said.
But he says if Chick-fil-A wanted to, the company could have a case.
“If I was Chick-filaA, and I wanted to mount a legal challenge, I would say this is an unfair condition. You are giving me the benefit of operating in the Airport, but you are conditioning it on me giving up my first amendment right to speak about issues of policy, and that's not fair,” Coale said.
Paxton also told San Antonio officials he asked Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to investigate whether the city's actions violated federal law and regulations prohibiting religious discrimination by federal grant recipients. Paxton has made religious freedom battles a focus of his office since being elected in 2014.
The Atlanta-based fast-food chain has faced opposition elsewhere over donating millions over the years to groups that oppose same-sex marriage. In 2012, the company's chief operating officer criticized same-sex marriage, prompting some politicians to block the chain from expanding in certain areas.
Earlier this month, a dean at Rider University in New Jersey resigned over the school's decision to not consider bringing Chick-fil-A to campus because of its opposition to the LGBT community.