Indiana's Hard Truth: Dissent Is No Longer Tolerated

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On Tuesday, the owners of an Indiana pizza parlor made a terrible mistake. The O’Connor family, which runs Memories Pizza in the small town of Walkerton, told a local ABC affiliate that while they would “never deny” service to a gay couple or a customers of another religion, “they just don’t agree with gay marriages” and would not provide pizzas for a gay wedding if asked.

If you’ve been following the wild-eyed, hair-on-fire debate over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act—a law widely labeled as “anti-gay” and berated as “bigotry” by celebrities ranging from Apple CEO Tim Cook to pop star Miley Cyrus—you won’t be surprised by what happened next.

Within minutes, an Internet mob descended upon Memories Pizza. Twitter users, including an Indiana high school golf coach, threatened to burn the place down. Others hijacked the restaurant’s Yelp page with gay porn and personal threats, including the following gem: “Oh yeah, I’m going to kill your Jesus. Try and stop me.” (News flash: Somebody already tried that once.) As radio host Dana Loesch reported, the O’Connors also received death threats—so many, in fact, that they’re considering closing their restaurant.

Charming, is it not? Welcome to “tolerance” in 2015. The Great Hoosier Gay Pizza Conflagration, sadly, is only the latest bout of hysteria surrounding a rather anodyne law. Earlier, in a Washington Post op-ed, Apple’s Cook had labeled the RFRA “dangerous,” calling for a boycott of Indiana—perhaps forgetting, in his fervor, that he gladly does business in violently anti-gay Saudi Arabia. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, not to be outdone, banned “non-essential” state travel to the benighted midwestern state. (Nothing says freedom like panicked bans and closed borders!) Meanwhile, writing for Time magazine, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar called Indiana’s RFRA “an American version of Sharia law” that would make “a single religion’s teachings ... the law of the land.”

If you know anything about RFRA laws, this is patently absurd. Nineteen other states have RFRAs; the federal government adopted one in 1993. Several prominent proponents of gay rights and gay marriage have defended Indiana’s proposed law—you can read them here, here, and here—explaining that it simply allows religious minorities a day in court if they feel their conscience or First Amendment freedoms have been violated.

These facts don’t matter, of course. It has become increasingly clear that the Indiana blow-up has nothing to do with the details of any law. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar may not realize it, but he pretty much wrote the “Stairway to Heaven” of opinion columns: The true message is there, but only if you read it backwards. The New Sharia isn’t coming from powerful and intolerant Christians. It’s coming from the activist left, closely allied with big business and government. It’s a coalition that, increasingly, will not tolerate dissent of any kind.

Conservative Christians, it appears, can’t just live and let live when it comes to gay marriage. They have to actively support and participate in it, lest the “You Must Approve” coalition swoop in and try to ruin their business, their reputation, and their life. This is sad. It is strange. It certainly reflects a stunning insecurity. It’s also happening across the country: For refusing to participate in same-sex weddings, an Oregon bakery was shuttered, a Washington florist may lose her business, and photography studios, wedding venues and t-shirt shops have been targeted with closure, fines, and crippling legal bills.

You might think religious objections to gay marriage are silly or outdated. You might even think that people who decline to serve gay weddings are misguided jerks. That’s your right; it’s a free country, at least for now. Personally, I think most religious objections to gay marriage are understandable and reasonable, not “bigoted.” On the same token, if any of my gay friends want me to bake a cake for their wedding, I’ll bake the best darn wedding cake this side of Gene Hackman. (Actually, that’s a lie. I would probably do what I usually do in social occasions that require the bringing of food, which would be to buy something at a fancy store and pretend that I made it myself.)

But then again, I value freedom and diversity. The New Sharia does not. In fact, many Americans seem to have lost a basic understanding of how freedom works. Remember high school civics class, where Lesson One is that your First Amendment rights don’t really exist unless they are also applied to people whose ideas you might find wrong, even abhorrent? Something tells me they don’t teach that anymore. To be fair, maybe they don’t have time, given their full slate of privilege detector tests, trigger warnings, and general Airings of Grievances.

It’s sad to see people make monsters out of their neighbors. Watching the Internet mobs descend upon Memories Pizza—as well as the media and business mobs that descended upon Indiana in general—made me wonder if any of these enraged, fire-breathing laptop warriors ever step out of the house and look around. All across America, in grocery stores, coffee shops, schools, and parks, gay and straight people not only coexist, they get along. They are friends. Face to face, for the most part, they have goodwill and a sense of community—or, at the very least, a sense of polite respect.

We have, for now, a functioning civil society. But with the rise of the “You Must Approve” mob and its powerful partners, cracks are beginning to show. Ironically, the freedoms that the mob seeks to destroy—the freedoms of religion, speech, and association—are the very same freedoms that separate us from places like Saudi Arabia. If certain groups get their way, they might not be around for long. 

Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin,Texas. Her work can be found at  http://www.heatherwilhelm.com/ and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

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