Why Indiana pizza parlor is now a conduit for conservatives backing RFRA

A GoFundMe page for Memories Pizza has already raised more than $200,000 in donations. Is this the 'safe' way to support Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act?

Michael Conroy/AP
Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long announces changes to the state's new religious objections law.

After becoming the first reported business to stand in support of Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Ind. was forced to close, at least temporarily, due to threats and social media reactions.

Now, the family-owned pizza parlor may be emerging as a safer conduit for signaling support for RFRA. Despite passage in the Indiana legislature, few supporters have expressed their views publicly in recent days. 

In less than 24 hours after their interview aired on WBND-TV in South Bend, Indiana, co-owners Kevin O’Connor and his daughter Crystal faced an angry social media backlash, a hacked website, and threats to their family and business.  

“I don’t know if we will re-open, or if we can, if it’s safe to re-open,” Crystal O’Connor told Dana Loesch on The Blaze TV, “We’re in hiding basically, staying in the house.”

Fast forward another 24 hours, and it appears that the pizzeria has more support than they realized. Dana Loesch of The Blaze and network contributor Lawrence B. Jones III set up a GoFundMe site for the Indiana business. Only 20 hours in, the page has raised more than $200,000 for the family. More than 7,000 people have donated to the site, many of them choosing to do so anonymously, possibly due to the harsh repercussions experienced by the pizzeria.

“Rather than allowing this family to simply have their opinion, which they were asked to give, outraged people grabbed the torches and began a campaign to destroy this small business in small town Indiana,” the fundraising page states. “No one was turned away. No one was discriminated against. It was a hypothetical question asked by a news reporter who had questionable motives to begin with.”

Thursday morning, a few Indiana business owners joined Indiana legislators to announce a plan to include gender identity and sexual orientation in the protected list in anti-discriminatory laws.  "[RFRA] was never intended to discriminate against anyone," Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R) of Fort Wayne told the Indianapolis Star. "That perception led to the national protests we've seen."

Some have praised the proposed changes to Indiana's RFRA, while others have criticized the changes for not going far enough – or for backpedalling in the face of public outcry. 

While the debate between LGBT discrimination and freedom of speech continues, some national polls have shown that a majority of Americans may support bills similar to RFRA. A poll – conducted by the Marist Institute of Public Opinion and sponsored by the Catholic News Agency – showed that 54 percent of Americans supported faith-based exemptions from the law. About 65 percent oppose fines for wedding vendors who decline to provide services to same-sex couples for religious reasons.

“While there has been growing acceptance of gay marriage in the United States, Americans also value religious liberty,” the poll results say. “A majority believes moral conscience exemptions from the law should be allowed.”

A poll conducted by the Associated Press in February found that 57 percent of respondents agree that wedding-related businesses should be allowed to refuse services to same-sex couples on religious grounds.

At the same time, support of gay marriage in general has grown quickly in the last few years. In 2009, a Gallup poll found that 40 percent of Americans said gay marriage should be recognized by law with the same rights as traditional marriages. In May 2014, that number had risen to 55 percent.

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