Franklin Graham has called concerns that a proposed Chick-fil-A restaurant could jeopardize a Catholic school's "safe spaces" due to the chain's opposition to homosexuality "ridiculous" and said "gays don't need to be afraid of Christians".
In a Facebook post shared on Thursday, the Samaritan's Purse CEO said he's known Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy and his family "for years" and expressed confidence that they are "committed to applying biblical principles to their business."
"That means showing love and respect to all of their customers," he explained.
The evangelist added that despite what the students think, Chick-fil-A is a "very safe place" for them.
"These students might want to rethink boycotting restaurants because the owners or founders believe in the Word of God," he said. "Some great ones do. In-N-Out Burger, one of the top hamburger chains in America, was founded by Christians and continues to put Scripture on their packaging, such as John 3:16 on the bottom of their cups. Gays don't need to be afraid of Christians, because God tells Christians to love everyone, even though we disagree with them."
According to the Washington Times, students at Duquesne University filed a petition asking the school to reconsider the inclusion of the popular fast-food chain, which has in the past voiced its support for traditional marriage.
"Chick-fil-A has a questionable history on civil rights and human rights," Niko Martini, a student senator at the Pittsburgh university, said in a statement to the student newspaper, The Duke. "I think it's imperative the university chooses to do business with organizations that coincide with the [university's] mission and expectations they give students regarding diversity and inclusion."
The Times notes that while Duquesne is a Catholic university, the school's student government has not adopted the church's stance that all homosexual acts are "intrinsically evil."
"I've tried very hard within the last semester and a half to promote this safe environment for the LGBTQ community," said Rachel Coury, president of Lambda, a gay rights group. She expressed concern that LGBTQ people "will feel that safe place is at risk" if the restaurant is allowed to open in the university food court.
Despite the concerns of some members of the Duquesne community, The Duke reports that most students have responded positively to the planned Chick-fil-A.
"I think it gives us another option, and it's more food choices that make us comparable to other colleges that have a lot more chain restaurants on their campus, which is something I think we lack," computer science student Madison Seffrin told newspaper.
"It's almost inevitable that a place that closes its doors on a Sunday will also not support some of the things that I support," she added.
In 2012, Cathy made headlines after he affirmed the company's stance in support of traditional marriage.
"We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles," he said, according to Forbes.
He later added, "We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that."
At the time, the company was sharply criticized by the LGBT community, who called for a boycott of the fast-food chain. However, in response to the controversy, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee initiated a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day movement during which the company said it had "record-setting" sales. A consulting firm estimated that the average Chick-fil-A restaurant had 29.9 percent more sales and 367 more customers than on a typical day.