Memories Pizza and the First Amendment

Over the last week, Indiana has experienced a political firestorm. Conservative legislators passed an expansive religious freedom bill, and our conservative governor signed it. Since then, you know the story: the NCAA, Angie’s List, Apple’s Tim Cook, and NASCAR have all voiced objections to the law. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce opposed the law before it was passed. Our governor ducked the “does this law legalize discrimination” on national TV several times in one interview, leading to his becoming the butt of late-night comedians’ jokes.

A new firestorm erupted yesterday when a small town pizza parlor in Walkerton, Indiana, caught the Internet’s attention when its owner said on TV that she wouldn’t cater a gay wedding because her religious beliefs don’t recognize gay marriage. While there have been plenty of voices of outcry and support, some of it has gotten ugly—threats to the family and the business.

This is wrong and should stop immediately.

Don’t misunderstand me. I disagree strongly with the owner’s religious-based point of view.

But she has a right to believe as she wishes and to even express those beliefs without fear of retribution. She has the right to say she wants to be able to discriminate legally.

Every one of us in the United States at one time or another believes something that may be wildly unpopular, even angering. Nevertheless, if free speech means anything it has to permit people to express views like the pizza parlor owner’s—and not have to worry about personal safety afterwards. The mob’s veto must never be allowed to silence free speech, no matter how distasteful or wrong it might be. As Justice William Brennan explained in the case of Texas v. Johnson, the answer to speech we don’t like is not restriction or mob veto. It’s more speech, with the aim of persuading the other person she is wrong.

Call the owner of Memories Pizza whatever you want: uninformed, bigoted, intolerant, stupid, anything. At the same time, please recognize that she has the right to her opinion and to voice it. You have the right to voice your opinion and persuade her she’s wrong, but you don’t have the right to use threats to force her to recant her views. That’s what fascists do. It would be unfortunate to meet intolerance with fascism. No one wins in that situation.

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4 thoughts on “Memories Pizza and the First Amendment

    1. Good point. I will also say her father is uninformed as well. Like Gawker said, his statement that he chooses to be heterosexual is a little, um, potentially revealing (“I tried guys, but not my cup of tea.”). The other thing that drives me nuts is that people choose to remain within or leave whatever faith group they belong to. So even if GLBTQ folks do “choose” their orientation, that is not a reason to deny them equal protection from discrimination.

      Thanks for commenting.

    1. Thanks, Deb. Every once in a while we have to remind ourselves that others have free speech rights too.

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