On December 17, a New York Democratic lawmaker honored the Hanukkah and Christmas holidays by introducing a bill that would effectively ban Jewish, Muslim and Christian-owned establishments from operating in the state’s rest stop thruways.
Tony Simone’s bill, the Rest Stop Restaurant Act, would require food and beverage companies contracted by New York State to provide services along the state’s interstate to be open seven days a week.
The naked purpose of his bill is to shut down the nine Chick-fil-As that operate in rest stops across the Empire State.
The bill argues that “publicly owned service areas should use their space to maximally benefit the public. Allowing for retail space to go unused one seventh of the week or more is a disservice and unnecessary inconvenience to travelers who rely on these service areas.”
There’s one problem with Simone’s claim — these aren’t taxpayer-funded entities. A $450 million private partnership completely paid for them at no expense to the New York drivers or taxpayers.
So, what’s the only reason left for Simone to pursue this bill? To stick it to Chick-fil-A, whose owners are Christian conservatives who publicly disagree with my party on many issues, most notably gay marriage.
This is a wrongheaded approach. The openly gay Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said it well during his presidential campaign: “To me there’s two things that can happen when you are conscious of your identity. One is it turns into all these ways we separate ourselves from each other, and it just turns into one big, you don’t know me. But the other way we can do it is we can say, OK I’ve got this experience, you’ve got this experience, what can we talk about that brings us together??”
“I do not approve of their politics, but I kind of approve of their chicken”
But Simone’s effort to shut down Chick-fil-A isn’t just a misguided political choice — it’s an assault on a cornerstone of the progressive tradition: religious freedom.
While Simone was targeting a Christian-owned chicken fast food joint, his bill would also effectively shut down Jewish delis and halal restaurants across New York interstates.
In short, it’s pure bigotry.
It’s stunning that a lawmaker from the country’s most Jewish and Muslim region would pursue a policy that curtails their rights to participate in New York’s economy. Still, reactionary, virtue-signal politics often closes its eyes to unexpected outcomes.
President Joe Biden is a devout Catholic who attends Mass every week. In him, the Democratic Party has one of the nation’s most religious presidents in modern history. As a United States senator, he supported the International Religious Freedom Act — a landmark law that cemented the United States’ commitment to religious freedom at home and around the globe.
Like so many others, faith has sustained Biden throughout his life. But for far too many people within our nation, practicing their faith still means facing social and economic exclusion. A Democratic Party that stands with Biden against this trend is a party holding to its progressive tradition. At the same time, a Democratic Party that perpetuates Tony Simone’s bigotry is a party without a future in America’s heartland.