WARREN, Maine — A carload of food from Chick-fil-A had more meaning Thursday evening than a tasty meal for the approximately 100 people who turned out for a meeting of the Knox-Lincoln County Tea Party.
“This is about freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the freedom of assembly to meet here and enjoy some chicken,” said Col. Kris Mineau of North Reading, Mass., who is president of the Massachusetts Family Institute.
Mineau was one of the speakers at the Tea Party gathering, bringing the national political controversy over Chick-fil-A to the midcoast of Maine.
The president and chief operating officer of the restaurant chain, Dan Cathy, made comments to a newspaper in July in which he stated his support for traditional marriage. That led to criticism from supporters of same-sex marriage, with some urging a boycott of his restaurant chain. That, in turn, led opponents of same-sex marriage to issue support for the company.
When Carroll Conley, the executive director of the Maine Christian Civic League, heard about the planned meeting of the Knox-Lincoln Tea Party, he contacted Gordon Colby, who is a leader of the midcoast group and offered to arrange for Chick-fil-A food to be shuttled to the Tea Party gathering.
That’s where Mineau came in to the picture. As the Massachusetts counterpart to the Maine Christian Civic League, Mineau agreed to pick up enough Chick-fil-A food to feed 100 people and drove it more than three hours and 160 miles to the meeting.
Mineau, a retired fighter pilot who flew 100 combat missions over North Vietnam, said he not only strongly supports the right of Cathy to state his views on marriage but he also agrees with the restaurant executive’s position.
“Marriage should be between one man and one woman,” Mineau said.
He defended Cathy, noting that the company does not discriminate against its employees or customers. Mineau issued sharp criticism of Boston Mayor Thomas Menino for his comment saying he did not want Chick-fil-A in Boston.
“I will go as far to say that this type of incendiary speech played a role in a shooting at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.,” Mineau said. A man with bags from Chick-fil-A entered the organization’s headquarters Wednesday and shot a security guard before he was subdued. The Family Research Council also supports what they say is traditional marriage.
In a speech to the gathering, Mineau said the United States is at a precipice.
“We’re in a real battle for the heart and soul of America. Our rights come not from government but from God. If rights come from government, then government becomes God,” Mineau said to a loud round of applause from the crowd.
He recounted the time he ejected from a supersonic jet as it was plummeting to Earth at 750 miles per hour. He said no one knows how he survived, although it took six years to heal all his broken bones. He said, however, that a chaplain helped to put together his most important part.
“Now, we can take this most broken country and put it together again,” he concluded with a loud amen.
Colby rallied the gathering to work hard to elect people who share their beliefs. He read excerpts from letters written by Gen. George Washington during the Revolutionary War. He said the the letters were on the importance of perseverance and he told Tea Party members that perseverance was needed to elect the right candidates.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Charlie Summers was in attendance, as were local legislative candidates Robert Carter and Carole Gartley and state Rep. Deb Sanderson.
Maine Treasurer Bruce Poliquin also was in attendance. He noted the size of the turnout.
“This is America, this is democracy,” Poliquin said.