This Indiana Pizza Shop Is A Joke, But It Reveals A Real Problem With The Law

CREDIT: Flickr/Krista Guenin

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) says the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) wasn’t intended to enable discrimination of any kind, even though anti-LGBT discrimination is exactly what its proponents still admit was their reason for supporting it. As state lawmakers prepare some sort of clarification for the law, one Indiana business has already promised to use the law for the purpose of discriminating against same-sex couples.

The owners of Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Indiana say they would never provide pizzas for a same-sex couple’s wedding. “We are a Christian establishment,” Crystal O’Connor told ABC 57. She and her family are proud to own a business that reflects their religious beliefs, “a Christian establishment,” adding that they “definitely agree with the bill.”

But, echoing social conservatives’ talking points, O’Connor says she should have a right to refuse service to a same-sex couple without it being discrimination. “We’re not discriminating against anyone,” she said. “That’s just our belief and anyone has the right to believe in anything.” Likewise, she doesn’t think the bill is “targeting gays,” adding, “I don’t think it’s discrimination. It’s supposed to help people that have a religious belief.”

This reaction reflects what law professors have already warned could be the reaction to Indiana’s inordinately broad RFRA. In a February letter, they explained to lawmakers that if people feel that their religious beliefs trump the law, it could well invite lawlessness. “This confusion and conflict will increasingly take the form of private actors, such as employers, landlords, small business owners, or corporations, taking the law into their own hands and acting in ways that violate generally applicable laws on the grounds that they have a religious justification for doing so,” they wrote. “Members of the public will then be asked to bear the cost of their employer’s, their landlord’s, their local shopkeeper’s, or a police officer’s private religious beliefs.”

This is particularly true because Indiana’s RFRA — unlike the federal RFRA or the RFRAs in any other state — allows for a religious defense even when the government is not a party to the case. Whereas RFRA was originally intended to protect religious beliefs from government intrusion, Indiana’s law is written specifically to allow people like the O’Connor family to defend their actions against other citizens with their religious beliefs.

This assumed “license to discriminate” could impact many people beyond the LGBT community. When Arizona’s similar bill took the national spotlight last year, many other vulnerable groups came to light. For example, CNN’s Anderson Cooper called on proponents of that bill to counter the possibility that a bank’s loan officer could refuse a loan to a divorced woman or an unwed mother because of his Catholic faith. Arizona Sen. Al Melvin (R) ignored the hypothetical, claiming that Cooper was simply taking discrimination “to the -nth degree.”

The O’Connor family, however, is not engaging in lawlessness. Walkerton is not one of the cities nor in one of the counties in Indiana that currently offers LGBT nondiscrimination protections, so even without the RFRA, it’s seemingly perfectly legal for the O’Connor family to discriminate. They did clarify that they would serve gay customers, just not same-sex weddings, though it’s unclear if there is much demand for pizzas at weddings. Even if they didn’t serve gay customers, however, the denial of service would be perfectly legal, because Indiana has no statewide LGBT protections.