The Anti-Pizzeria Mob Loses Its Mind

Posted on April 8, 2015 by Matt Welch


Someone please tell me if my progression here is inaccurate in any way:

  1. Family owners of small-town Indiana pizzeria spend zero time or energy commenting on gay issues.
  2. TV reporter from South Bend walks inside the pizzeria to ask the owners what they think of the controversial Religious Restoration Freedom Act. Owner Crystal O’Connor responds, “If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no….We are a Christian establishment.” O’Connor also says—actually promises is the characterization here—that the establishment will continue to serve any gay or non-Christian person that walks through their door.
  3. The Internet explodes with insults directed at the O’Connor family and its business, including a high school girls golf coach in Indiana who tweets“Who’s going to Walkerton, IN to burn down #memoriespizza w me?” Many of the enraged critics assert, inaccurately, that Memories Pizza discriminates against gay customers.
  4. In the face of the backlash, the O’Connors close the pizzeria temporarily, and say they may never reopen, and in fact might leave the state. “I don’t know if we will reopen, or if we can, if it’s safe to reopen,” Crystal O’Connor tells The Blaze. “I’m just a little guy who had a little business that I probably don’t have anymore,” Kevin O’Connor tells the A. Times.

Rod Dreher titles his useful post on this grotesque affair “Into the Christian Closet,” and it’s apt considering the progression above. If only these non-activist restaurateurs had simply kept their views to themselves when asked by a reporter, April Fool’s would have been like any other day for them.

But as it stands, they’re now being trashed not just by social-justice mobs from afar, but by powerful politicians where they live and work. Democratic State Sen. Jim Arnold represents the O’Connors’s district. This is what he said about his constituents: “The vast majority of people in this country are not going to stand by and watch that kind of activity unfold,” he said. “If that’s their stand I hope they enjoy eating their pizza because I don’t think anyone else is going to.”

Sen. Arnold says he’s upset by the news because of the negative attention it’s bringing to a town he says is a great community.

He said this kind of thinking has no place in this town. And the Religious Freedom Restoration Law is not an excuse for them to discriminate.

“This is America and if people say they’re not going to serve them and they feel this is some kind of defense, which by the way doesn’t take effect until July 1, but if they feel it’s some kind of defense, I think they’re sadly mistaken[.]”

Almost every word out of Sen. Arnold’s mouth was wrong, horrifying, or both.

  1. The O’Connors did not say “they’re not going to serve them,” they in fact stressed the opposite.
  2. The “kind of activity” that Arnold contends “the vast majority of people in this country are not going to stand by and watch” is expressing a disfavored opinion to a reporter. The pizzeria discriminated against nobody; merely said that it would choose not to serve a gay wedding if asked. Which it never, ever would be, because who asks a small-town pizzeria to cater a heterosexual wedding, let alone a gay one?
  3. This kind of thinking has no place in this town is—what’s the word?—totalitarian. Sen. Arnold is explicitly ganging up with “the vast majority” against someone guilty of thoughtcrime. This is a true statement regardless of your opinion of the underlying thought.

There is no to-be-sure paragraph about what happened yesterday. A virtual mob, acting at least partly on bogus information, gleefully trashed a business that hasn’t (to my knowledge) discriminated against a flea. After which a local pol stood up and yelled “Encore!” The good news is that a crowdfunding effort has raised/pledged nearly $50,000 to the O’Connors.

The bad news, for those of us on the suddenly victorious side of the gay marriage debate, is that too many people are acting like sore winners, not merely content with the revolutionary step of removing state discrimination against same-sex couples in the legal recognition of marriage, but seeking to use state power to punish anyone who refuses to lend their business services to wedding ceremonies they find objectionable. That’s not persuasion, that’s force, and force tends to be the anti-persuasion among those who are on the receiving end of it.

Jonathan Rauch had a great piece for Reason two years ago about free speech and gay rights, arguing persuasively that when a minority is hopelessly outnumbered both in public opinion and in law, maximal free expression (and I would add, free association) is their most potent weapon—often, it’s all they’ve got. To fight uphill all these long decades, then get to the top, only to start wielding majoritarianism against the suddenly disfavored minority position? That’s ugly stuff.

There is another way: The Mo’Ne Davis/Joey Casselberry way, the Branch Rickey/Bobby Bragan way. Or if you don’t like baseball, the Matt Stolhandske/Klein family bakery way.

Don’t know that last story? Stolhandske is an evangelical pro-gay marriage activist who is nonetheless raising money for the Portland bakery that was fined $150,000 by the state of Oregon for refusing to work a gay wedding. Explained he: “This is what an olive branch looks like. I am not rewarding their behavior, but rather loving them in spite of it. It is time for these two communities, which both cite genuine love as our motivation, to put aside our prejudices and put down our pitchforks to clear the path for progress.”

In other words, discussion, persuasion, strategic forgiveness, tolerance. Tactics worth considering, in a year when the Supreme Court is likely to codify the culture’s amazing shift on gay marriage into law.