At any time of the day on Wednesday, hundreds of people could be found gathered in and around Chick-fil-A in Bryant.
Lines to enter the restaurant stretched past the corner of the building. Drive-through lanes looped around and behind the parking lot, joining up with the street beside the restaurant. Parking spilled over into the Lowe’s lot, often filling the majority of the spaces. Police officers directed traffic all day.
The crowds waited in lengthy lines to purchase their chicken sandwiches, nuggets and waffle fries – all to show support for the business amidst a public controversy sparked by comments made by company president, Dan Cathy, who affirmed his stance against homosexual marriage in a radio interview last week.
The average wait for food was about 30 minutes, but the Chick-fil-A supporters didn't seem to mind. Many of them declared cheerfully that it was “worth it.” Some people even came back for more than one meal.
Instigated by a former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee, "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" was planned for all supporters to patronize about 1,600 Chick-fil-A stores in America on the same day. It was a response to explosive backlash, particularly via social media, against the fast-food chain, and a boycott by gay activists and supporters. Politicians in Boston, New York and Chicago and numerous celebrities have spoken out strongly against the chain..
The Jim Henson Co. and Berenstain Bears publishers, who both recently provided toys for kids' meals, have released statements announcing a complete severing of professional ties with Chick-fil-A. Berenstain Bears books are still appearing in kids' meals – for now – because the deal was set in place for more than a year, publishers wrote.
Last month, Chick-fil-A pulled finger puppets provided by the Jim Henson Co. According to the Chick-fil-A Facebook page, there was a safety issue, but, for some, the pull came suspiciously close to the Jim Henson Co.'s Facebook statement on July 20. The sequence of events, however, is unclear.
More than 600,000 people signed up for Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, but judging by the turnout in Bryant, many more participated.
“The goal is simple,” Huckabee wrote on a Facebook page dedicated to the event. “Let's affirm a business that operates on Christian principles and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the godly values we espouse by simply showing up and eating at Chick-fil-A Wednesday, Aug. 1.”
And, in Bryant, people showed up in droves. Baseline Baptist Church of Little Rock minister Buddy Keesee brought a bus load to participate in what some have dubbed the “buycott.”
The church group came because they share Cathy's stance on gay marriage. “We believe in the traditional, biblical definition of family as the only definition of family,” Keesee said.
Saline Courier followers on Facebook were asked to weigh in on the issue, and some people had comments expressing similar beliefs to Cathy and Keesee, referencing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible.
Others expressed views that both the boycott and the “buycott” were harmful.
“Anger and hate only breed more anger and hate,” wrote Amy Wright. “I am a Christian. I like Chick-fil-A and I don't hate gays!”
Wright went on to say that God hates “all sin, but that doesn't mean he hates the sinner,” and that Christians and homosexuals are both mistreated in today's society at times and both have a right to express their beliefs, but must also respect the rights of those who disagree with them.
On both sides, this is what it's all about: Rights.
Supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community believe homosexuals' rights are being violated by the condemnation of their lifestyle.
Supporters of Chick-fil-A are protesting their perceived violation of Cathy's freedom of speech.
“He's being unfairly attacked,” said Becky McPherson, who drove from Magnolia to participate.
“The guy has a right to his own beliefs and opinions,” Shirley Copeland wrote on Facebook.
This seemed to be the most popular motivation for participants of the Chick-fil-A Customer Appreciation Day.
“We are here to stand up for freedom of speech, the First Amendment,” said Greg Davis of Haskell, while waiting in line outside Chick-fil-A on Wednesday. “Other religions get rights, but I feel like when I share those kinds of things, I get persecuted.”
The perception that the conservative voice is stifled in America was a common thread among the supporters of Chick-fil-A. They feel that only liberal views are respected or taken seriously in today's society. To them, the boycott was an example of this and violated Cathy's rights.
Others disagreed. “Just as they have the right to say and believe what they want, I have the right to never eat their food again,” Michelle Tucker wrote on Facebook.
But some believe people like Tucker, who support gay rights, are in the “minority,” and that the opponents to gay marriage just need to speak up for themselves, said Amy Culpepper of White House, Texas.
“Segregation was also supported by the majority, and it doesn't make it right,” Robin Laster-Wilson wrote on Facebook.
Freedom of speech and the support for Christian family values were not the only motivation for the crowd at Chick-fil-A Wednesday.
When asked the main reason for showing up, Gage Marvel, 14, said, “It's against gay people.”
A post on the Chick-fil-A Facebook page reads, “The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.” In addition, it says, “going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”
Manager Scott Hill at the Bryant Chick-fil-A said the company will not discuss the matter at this time, but “will continue to provide good service and good chicken, same as we do every day.”