Reaction to Indiana's first pizza parlor to reject gay events

Memories Pizza of Walkerton, Ind. announced its support of the new Religious Freedom Restoration Act. How did Twitter users respond?

Associated Press video
A framed sign inside the Memories Pizza parlor in Walkerton, Ind.

A pizza parlor in small town Indiana is standing in support of the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Memories Pizza of Walkerton, Ind., owned by the O’Connor family, told ABC 57 that they support Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s decision to sign the bill. They said that while they will continue to serve gays in their pizza parlor, if confronted with the opportunity to cater a same-sex wedding, they said they would decline due to their religious beliefs.

"We're not discriminating against anyone, that's just our belief and anyone has the right to believe in anything," co-owner Crystal O'Connor told the local ABC station, "We definitely agree with the bill . . . I do not think it's targeting gays. I don't think it's discrimination . . . It's supposed to help people that have a religious belief."

The self-described Christian establishment has received strong backlash – and some support – on social media since becoming what was reported as the first business to openly refuse some service to gay customers after the bill’s passage. 

Many also posted on the business’s Yelp page, which was hacked and features pro-gay content and “Going Out Of Business” pictures. Due to threatening calls and posts, the restaurant has temporarily closed its doors. This perhaps sheds light on why few others have openly supported the bill, even though it had enough support in the Indiana legislature to pass and be signed into existence. Some have expressed their support of both the bill and the pizza parlor. A fundraising page on crowd-funding website GoFundMe has raised more than the $90,000 goal in order to "relieve the financial loss endured by the proprietors’ stand for faith."

An article in The Atlantic says that it seems strange that Indiana, where same-sex marriage is legal, has become “public enemy number one” even though there are still 13 states in which same-sex marriage is illegal. Multiple celebrities are boycotting events in the state, even though they willingly perform in other states that have yet to legalize same-sex unions. Indiana is the 20th state to pass such a bill, yet has become the spark that lit the fire of national debate. Those supporting the legislation, such as the owners of Memories Pizza, said the bill protects their right to decide if something goes against their beliefs. They view it not as discriminatory, but rather an issue of free choice.

"That lifestyle is something they choose. I choose to be heterosexual," co-owner Kevin O'Connor told ABC 57. "They choose to be homosexual. Why should I be beat over the head to go along with something they choose?”

Mark Goldfeder, senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University in Atlanta, said that United States government has not made it clear whether or not LGBT rights are to be protected.

“At some point we come to the idea that we decide as a society that there’s a compelling government interest that we don’t discriminate anymore,” Mr. Goldfeder said, reported The Christian Science Monitor. “LGBT is not a protected class everywhere – though I think it should be – and the question we’re butting up against is exactly that: At what point does the line change, and we say, you can no longer do this? But because the line hasn’t changed everywhere, and yet public perception is changing, that’s why we now have this gray area.”

Others say that Indiana's RFRA law is clearly institutionalizing discrimination. Apple’s Tim Cook, who is gay, wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post explaining his problem with such legislation. “These bills rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear,” wrote Mr. Cook. “They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality.”

Muncie, Ind. Baptist pastor Tim Overton, who testified in hearings in support of Indiana's RFRA, told NPR that he sees the law as a free speech issue more than a discrimination issue. "If I say no to [officiating the wedding of] a same-sex couple . . . some people are going to say that's discrimination. But I think most Americans would agree that a pastor like myself should not be compelled by the government to use my speech to support someone else's perspective . . . To force someone who doesn't believe that same-sex marriage is correct in the eyes of God – I just don't think they should be forced or compelled by government to use their speech to support someone else's perspective."

He adds that: "We're going to have to find a healthy compromise as gay rights is on the ascendancy and as that happens we're going to have to find a way to protect religious liberty."

Pastor Overton suggests that free-speech rights should apply to ministers and wedding-cake makers and photographers who object to providing services to same-sex couples, but it wouldn't apply to hotels or gas stations or other business where there is no speech right inherent in the product or service. 

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