Politics & Policy

Who’s Really Showing Courage in Indiana?

A moment of truth for conservatism, and Christianity

When Tim Cook, the powerful CEO of Apple, bravely announced he was opposed to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, he urged others to follow. “Opposing discrimination takes courage,” Cook wrote.

Meanwhile back in the real world, an Indiana TV reporter somehow found herself on camera, asking a pizzeria owner if she would be willing to cater a gay wedding. You have to wonder how that happened. Did someone alert the reporter that the owner was a committed evangelical? Did she troll the donut shops and pizza parlors of Indiana until she found someone willing to say something really brave: No I wouldn’t cater a gay wedding?

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In a powerful demonstration that the gay rights community doesn’t really need laws in order to punish small-time business owners known to oppose gay weddings, the media story spawned an internet mob of threats from the many wackos out there. One high school coach was so outraged by the fact that one small pizza owner felt this way, she immediately asked people to march with her and burn the joint down. She was kidding I assume, but the threat did get her suspended. I don’t believe in hate-speech laws but if you want to campaign against public hate speech, this would be a good place to start.

The owner has shut his pizzeria down and is “in hiding” according to Buzzfeed, after “the internet unleashed its wrath.”

Look, let me clear about two things. First, I don’t think RFRAs are going to protect small-business owners who don’t want to cater gay weddings, nor do most religious liberty scholars I respect. Second, I don’t see any reason why I as a Roman Catholic could not bake a cake or pizza for a gay wedding, in the unlikely event anyone wanted me to do so. (Gay couples: If you are turned down by a local business and want an alternative to crushing a local family’s livelihood, call me!)

In practical terms, if we want to pass legislation protecting wedding-industry vendors, the best strategy is to do so with a specific exemption based on two principles: a) to be protected, a business must be small, as in less than, say, five employees (no Hobby Lobby, in other words); and b) the exemption must be viewpoint neutral. Nobody has to service anyone else’s wedding if they do not want to, unless they plan on discriminating based on race. (The history of race in this country is unlike any other history of oppression, so let us not throw that baby out with the bathwater.)

But whether or not you are willing to act to protect these little guys, let us all acknowledge something that should be obvious: It is not the Tim Cooks of the world who showed courage here. Melissa of Sweet Cakes by Melissa showed courage. Baronelle Stutzman showed courage. Kelvin Cochran showed courage. Eric Moutsos showed courage.

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Unlike the Jim Crow era, the economic powers from Apple to Angie’s List are lining up firmly on gay people’s side, and are using economic and cultural power to crush the little folks, the florists and bakers who, whatever you think of them, are not trying to change how gay people live their lives so much as they are just trying to live their own lives.

Watching the backlash, Jill Lawrence of U.S. News crowed that it was a “glimpse into the GOP’s backward bubble.”

I beg to differ on which of us is in a bubble about public opinion. A GoFundMe.com site set up to help the family met its $45,000 goal in less than eight hours with hundreds of small donations. As I write, over 8,000 people have given over $230,000 in less than 24 hours.

Some 57 percent of Americans in the AP/GFK February poll agree it is wrong for the government to punish little guys like the florist. A new Marist poll for Catholic News Agency found an even higher level of support, with 65 percent of respondents saying wedding professionals should have the right not to serve gay weddings.

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As I write, every major GOP candidate except Scott Walker, Ron Paul, and Lindsey Graham has now offered public support for Indiana and Mike Pence.

#related#But the forces now allied against tolerance are still massive, and they include major swaths of the Republican donor class. As a result, traditional believers do not have a lot of things we will need in the fights to come.

We do not have anti-defamation organizations working hard to document and then reduce the hatred now being generated by the culturally empowered Left. We do not have political institutions raising money that can be spent to elect Senators and Presidents who support our views, or organizing donors to support our liberties. We do not have anyone like the Koch brothers willing to intelligently deploy their fortune to advance our core values by creating a high-value intellectual infrastructure, as well a political organization. We do not have a communications network to make sure we can get our message out, when and if Fox News refuses to cover us. We do not have an Internet rapid-response team, or a crisis PR firm on hand and ready to help as needed.

We do not have what a moral minority needs to survive and then thrive. We do not have what we need to keep Christianity from being redefined as racism in the public square.

Indiana represents an important cultural crossroads: Will we recognize where we are and find new ways not only to fight, but to win?

Will we find a way to stand and fight this new wave of hatred and intolerance, while recognizing and communicating that we know gay people have the same right that we’re demanding for ourselves — the right to live as one chooses?


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