AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – The San Antonio City Council’s vote to exclude fast-food chain Chick-fil-A from its airport sparked a lawsuit Monday from Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, who seeks to force the release of documents that he says would shed light “on the religious bigotry that animated its decision.”
Council members who supported the measure, which passed 6-4 on March 21, said they were acting to protect San Antonio’s “reputation for inclusion and equality.” Chick-fil-A has been criticized for its leadership’s conservative views, including its CEO’s opposition to same-sex marriage.
The vote has since ignited a national debate over religious discrimination in city government and become a lightning rod in this year’s mayoral election.
Paxton submitted a public information request on April 11, two weeks after advising the mayor and city council that his office had opened an investigation into whether the city’s action violated state law.
According to the lawsuit filed Monday in Travis County District Court under the Texas Public Information Act, San Antonio is claiming a litigation exception from records being sought, including communications between or among city council members, city employees and/or third parties, calendars of city council members, and records of meetings between council members and city employees, all concerning the inclusion or exclusion of Chick-fil-A in the airport.
“The city of San Antonio claims that it can hide documents because it anticipates being sued,” Paxton said in a statement on Monday announcing the suit’s filing. “But we’ve simply opened an investigation using the Public Information Act. If a mere investigation is enough to excuse the City of San Antonio from its obligation to be transparent with the people of Texas, then the Public Information Act is a dead letter. The city’s extreme position only highlights its fear about allowing any sunshine on the religious bigotry that animated its decision.”
Laura Elizabeth Mayes, a spokeswoman for the city, said that it has already provided nearly 250 pages of documents for review by the attorney general’s open records division.
“Instead of allowing the routine process to take its course, the AG decided to sue and not wait for a decision from his own department,” said City Attorney Andy Segovia. “The attorney general notified the press before any communication with the city, or even before the city was served with the suit.”
Mayes said that the attorney general should allow the open records division to issue a ruling on the city’s request, and added that Paxton’s office has not specified the legislative authority they are relying on to investigate the airport contract.
In letters opposing the records request, Deputy City Attorney Edward F. Guzman asserted the city’s position to deny access under the litigation exception of the Texas Public Information Act. He pointed to the attorney general’s own investigation, and his encouragement of U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to launch an inquiry into any possible breaches of federal law and agency regulations prohibiting religious discrimination, which is currently ongoing.
“It is reasonable to surmise that the office of the attorney general is actively investigating the city of San Antonio in preparation for possible legal action related to the information being requested,” Guzman wrote in a May 2 letter. “Allowing the use of the Texas Public Information Act as a means for discovery when litigation is anticipated undermines the litigation process and robs a government entity of its legal protections and reciprocal discovery afforded under state law.”
He closed his letter by asking the attorney general’s office to rule against itself.
Chick-fil-A’s leadership is as well-known for their belief in the Christian faith as the fast food restaurant is for its chicken sandwiches and waffle fries. The company has also reportedly been a large-dollar contributor to charities with positions against the LGBTQ community.