(Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said later that he can't stop the company from setting up shop, only use his "bully pulpit," the Boston Globe reported.)

"I think that Chick-fil-A got a bad rap," Loudon said. "They're really a great organization. If nothing else, they support communities, they hire young people, and young people need jobs. … And then there's this freedom of speech issue. I think a person has a right to be able to say what they stand for."

Amanda Straw, who lives in the Harrisburg area, last week spent the lunch rush hours sitting at a Chick-fil-A table with a yogurt parfait, a drink, a blanket she's knitting for her cat and a wipe board expressing her frustration with the company's donations.

Her first message read: "My dad went to war to defend my rights. You just paid to take them away."

Straw, 29, a graduate student, said the Chick-fil-A employees treated her with the "utmost" courtesy. Some patrons asked what her messages were about, and she explained. But by Saturday, customers' comments turned nasty.

"It was a case of people who didn't agree having no legal recourse to remove me from the restaurant," said Straw, who wants the legal rights of marriage — such as the financial benefits that protected her and her mother after Straw's father died 20 years ago — extended to same-sex couples. "They just decided to come out and harass me instead."

Straw blogged about her experience, one of the many ways in which people are using the Internet to spread their opinions about Chick-fil-A.

Tony Patino, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Baltimore, said the nature of the flap is a warning to all companies.

"This is a testament to social media," he said. For mass-market companies thinking of wading into politically charged territory, he said, "the best thing to do is not say anything."

jhopkins@baltsun.com

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