Hundreds of Killeen-area residents became part of a national story this week by going out to eat.

It's all because the CEO of the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain said something somewhat controversial — that he supported traditional marriage.

Amid the political firestorm that followed, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee came up with the idea to support CEO Dan Cathy with a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day on Wednesday — an idea he posted on his Facebook page.

The response nationwide was overwhelming — and Killeen's Chick-fil-A restaurant experienced a similar boom in customers.

From the time Killeen's store location opened Wednesday until late in the evening, customers packed the seating area and stood in line outside, while dozens of cars were backed up in the drive-through lane.

In the space of 24 hours, buying a chicken sandwich became a political statement.

Many customers no doubt turned out to reinforce the restaurant CEO's view on marriage — and that was their right.

Others wanted to stand up for Cathy's right to express his opinion, right or wrong. And this was perhaps the biggest issue at play last week — freedom of speech.

Regardless of Cathy's viewpoint regarding same-sex marriage, it was troubling when the mayors of three major cities threatened to deny permits to build new Chick-fil-A restaurants because of the CEO's comments.

Barring evidence of discrimination or other illegal actions, a business owner's views and opinions should not be the criteria on which to base the granting of a permit or license.

Of course, that's not to say all views and opinions should be treated as benign. If someone advocates violence or encourages hate crimes, it would be difficult for responsible officials to ignore the potential threat to a community.

But a mainstream opinion by the CEO of an openly religious company that promotes family values is another matter altogether.

No doubt, there are those who were offended by the Chick-fil-A CEO's comments regarding marriage. They had every right to be.

And they also had every right to "vote with their feet" and stay away from his chain's restaurants in protest.

But by the same token, those who thronged to Chick-fil-A restaurants across the nation Wednesday — including those in Killeen, Harker Heights and Temple — were right to take a stand as well, whatever the message they wished to send.

Of course, it's possible that some of the people who jammed the restaurants Wednesday just wanted a chicken sandwich.

And that's OK, too.

After all, it's a free country.

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