Law & the Courts

RFRA: Now More than Ever

A small-town family faces the consequences of mob rule.

If we are learning anything from the most baseless, absurd, and vile display of indignation to consume national attention in some time, it is precisely the opposite of the mob’s message: Events in Indiana are demonstrating that religious liberty is more important than ever.

Presumably having trawled her pocket of Indiana unsuccessfully for someone willing to go on the record, Alyssa Marino, a reporter with the local ABC affiliate, published late Tuesday night a story about the O’Connor family, proprietors of Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Ind., population: 2,248. Contrary to false headlines, Crystal O’Connor did not declare homosexual individuals unwelcome in her establishment, or declare her support for Westboro Baptist Church. She said, simply: “If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no.” Saying that she supported Indiana’s newly passed state Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Ms. O’Connor explained, “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.”

Because of her statement of belief, the O’Connors’ establishment has become Public Enemy No. 1 in the eyes of a great many Americans. On Google Maps, Memories Pizza has been changed to “Gay Memories Pizza,” with hundreds of reviewers posting single-star reviews and berating the O’Connors’ “bigotry” and “hate.” The same is happening on the crowd-source review site Yelp, where thousands of reviews have poured in from across the country (and even outside it), many with content that’s NSFW. In addition to the reviews, Memories Pizza’s Google Maps result includes not a link to its website, but one to a gay dating website. And (again, NSFW) has been commandeered with pictures of phallic-shaped pizzas and links to the parlor’s “app”–which takes you to the gay hookup app, Grindr.

That was enough for the O’Connors to close the doors of their shop until 4 p.m. Wednesday. But chatting with The Blaze radio host Dana Loesch, the O’Connors said that they are considering closing down permanently and leaving town, because of the number of death threats they have received. One of those came from a Concord (Ind.) High School golf coach, who tweeted, “Who’s going to Walkerton, IN to burn down #memoriespizza w me?” That coach, Jess Dooley, has been suspended pending an investigation.

RELATED: Coach Tweets About Burning Down Pizzeria That Won’t Cater Gay Weddings

That Memories Pizza becomes just a memory is, of course, the goal. The activist Left will not be content until not only Memories Pizza but any establishment that might operate according to its politically incorrect religious beliefs (Hobby Lobby, the Little Sisters of the Poor, et al.) is stamped out of existence and the owners banished from polite society.

#related#Which raises a question: When was the last time anything even remotely similar happened to gay proprietors of a “public accommodation”? When was the last time religious believers formed an online mob, crashed a Yelp page with NSFW reviews, hacked and repurposed Google results, tweeted death threats at the owners? When was the last time an organization in favor of the right to same-sex marriage was the victim of the degree of public and intentional hatred to which the O’Connors have been subjected in the last 24 hours?


What the odium heaped upon a small-town pizza shop shows is not that Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act threatens to erect Jim Crow-style laws against the Hoosier State’s LGBT community — but that Indiana’s RFRA has perhaps never been more urgently needed.

RELATED: The Faithful Won’t Yield on Religious Liberty

For a simple statement of faith that is in accordance not only with 2,000 years of orthodox Christianity but with the world’s other major religions, the O’Connors have had their livelihood — their very lives — threatened. If this is the reaction to the evening-news utterance of a family in a tiny burg in the Midwest, how much more worried should religious believers elsewhere be? If there was any question that religious liberty is under threat, events in Indiana should remove all doubt.

The larger problem, of course, is that the Indiana mob-types do not believe that religious liberty is a concept worth protecting. The defense of conscience as a fundamental principle of American order is meaningless to them.

That — not Indiana’s RFRA, not even the persecution of the O’Connors — is the alarming reality exposed by the events in Indiana. Which is why those who understand that religious liberty is not just a fundamental right, but the fundamental right — the liberty that grounds and makes possible all other liberties — must be unyielding in their efforts to protect this right. Those who are keen to be rid of it do not realize that the bitter consequences of upending the liberty underpinning liberal democracy will eventually descend upon them, too.

It is fitting, in a grim way, that all of this has come to pass in Holy Week.

– Ian Tuttle is a National Review Institute Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism.


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