Chicken sandwiches, waffle fries and the First Amendment: so went lunch Wednesday for some patrons at Chick-fil-A restaurants in Lombard, Schaumburg and across the nation.
Some customers said they showed up in support of free speech, religious expression and Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy's opposition to gay marriage as they waited for food on what was informally dubbed "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day."
The effort started with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's call for support of the chicken chain after leaders in Chicago and Boston said they didn't want the company opening new restaurants in their cities.
A Lombard village board committee Tuesday unanimously recommended a resolution backing the appreciation day and opposing government decisions that supporters said censor religious speech.
"We were able to come together to condemn the use of government power against people based on their free exercise of religion and their right of free speech," said Lombard Trustee Peter Breen, who introduced the resolution to the village board's economic and community development committee. "We think this ought to be a place where our village takes a stand."
At local Chick-fil-As, some said they turned out to support Cathy's statements, while others said they opposed government interference with a business because of its president's beliefs. Some simply wanted a chicken sandwich.
"It's ridiculous that a business permit could be taken away because of one person's belief," said Andreas Cromack, 16, of Round Lake.
The turnout at the Schaumburg location on Golf Road was so large it required police officers to direct traffic. The crowd included customers such as Evelia Urquizo, a 52-year-old from Mexico City who described herself as a "proud American citizen" living in Arlington Heights.
"We're here in support of freedom of speech," Urquizo said. "As far as freedom, we all should have the freedom to speak without retaliation."
She said she supports the company on religious grounds, too.
"God gave us the right to be free," she said.
Meanwhile, Equality Illinois, a gay advocacy group, is counterprotesting by encouraging people to patronize restaurants that are gay-friendly.
"People are going out today to other restaurants that are inclusive and accept everyone," said Bernard Cherkasov, the group's CEO.
A larger, national protest against Chick-fil-A is being planned for Friday.
"People want to show the fact that, just because Chick-fil-A is spending millions of dollars against gay rights, gay people aren't going away," Cherkasov said, referring to the significant donations that WinShape, a charitable organization sponsored by the restaurant, has made to organizations that oppose gay marriage.
Chick-fil-A has been unabashed about its ties to Christianity, most notably closing its franchises on Sundays. The chain was thrust into the spotlight when Cathy made a series of remarks on gay marriage, including a radio show in which he said, "I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.'"
That prompted Chicago Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno's efforts to prevent construction of a new Chick-fil-A in Logan Square, citing Cathy's anti-gay marriage stance as well as unresolved issues with increased traffic congestion. The move was supported by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Lombard's Breen said the Chicago leaders' stance sparked his desire to rally his community behind First Amendment freedoms.
Breen is an attorney for the public interest law firm the Thomas More Society, which has "a clear public position against same-sex marriage." But he said the village's resolution intends to send the message that Lombard will support all businesses regardless of their leaders' religious views.
"We would do the same no matter what the business was if it was being attacked," Breen said.
At Lombard's Chick-fil-A on Wednesday, resident Jan Kepplinger said she agreed with Breen's move to support the restaurant and First Amendment freedoms.
"It's about time that we stand up for what we believe," she said.
Breen said he received a handful of emails disagreeing with his resolution, including one from a gay business owner in Lombard.
"We were able to have a good exchange," he said. "By the end of it, he said, 'Thank you for letting me express my opinion.'"