A lawsuit involving Church's Chicken shines a spotlight on the Islamic attributes of its business. It also offers a valuable opportunity to discuss the rights of owners and customers regarding Islam in the private sphere:
A Baltimore couple has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Islamic investment bank that owns the Church's Chicken fast-food chain, alleging their franchise failed because the bank's strict adherence to the religious code of Shari'a prohibited the couple from selling pork.
Marcus and Denise Beasley, who are black, claimed they were treated differently by the bank, now known as Atlanta-based Arcapita Inc., than non-black franchisees who were allowed to continue serving breakfast dishes containing pork after the chain was acquired by the bank in December 2004.
The couple did not benefit from the grandfather policy allowing the sale of pork even though their contract with the chain's former owners, AFC Enterprises Inc., to open a location in Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport's new terminal predated the takeover and policy change, according to the suit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
This court will determine whether Arcapita, the American affiliate of Bahrain's First Islamic Investment Bank BSC, is guilty of discrimination or breach of contract. However, the aspect of the story that has received the most notice — the Shari'a-inspired prohibition on pork products at Church's Chicken — does not appear to raise any legal red flags.
A privately owned business may choose to sell or not sell whatever it wishes, as long as it does not violate the law or infringe upon the rights of others in the process. Customers have no inherent right to purchase pork at Church's Chicken franchises, and the company is under no obligation to offer it — regardless of the underlying motivation.
The free market, however, cuts both ways. Hungry Americans are not required to patronize any given restaurant. In the case of Church's Chicken, the absence of pork on the menu is just one excuse to eat elsewhere. Diners may also be concerned about what their money will fund at the Shari'a-compliant First Islamic Investment Bank in Bahrain.
Judging by reaction to this story in the blogosphere, the lawsuit itself could be the least of the problems facing Church's Chicken, whose business practices have clearly laid an egg in front of customers.