Yesterday the public debate over religious freedom vs. discrimination forced an Indiana pizzeria to shut down. Was that “the free market at work,” or a “lynch mob?” (More)

Public Shaming, Part I: Religious Freedom & Pizza

This week Morning Feature considers public shaming as an extralegal tool of social control. Today we begin with the response to recent Religious Freedom Restoration Acts and the closing of Memories Pizza in Indiana. Tomorrow we’ll see the story of Adria Richards, whose tweet reporting off-color jokes at a tech conference got a man fired but left her homeless and unemployed. Saturday we’ll conclude with whether invasion of privacy law can be applied to public shaming in our digital age.

“We are a Christian establishment”

So declared Crystal O’Connor, co-owner of Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Indiana. O’Connor was talking to Alyssa Marino, a reporter for ABC57 News in South Bend, who asked small town business owners to comment on Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act:

Marino’s story ran under the headline “RFRA: Michiana business wouldn’t cater a gay wedding,” and begins:

A small-town pizza shop is saying they agree with Governor Pence and the signing of the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The O’Connor family, who owns Memories Pizza, says they have a right to believe in their religion and protect those ideals.

“If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no,” says Crystal O’Connor of Memories Pizza.

She and her family are standing firm in their beliefs.

The O’Connors have owned Memories Pizza in Walkerton for 9 years.

It’s a small-town business, with small-town ideals.

“We are a Christian establishment,” says O’Connor.

The O’Connor family prides themselves in owning a business that reflects their religious beliefs.

“We’re not discriminating against anyone, that’s just our belief and anyone has the right to believe in anything,” says O’Connor.

“I don’t know if we will reopen, if we can”

The story quickly went viral, prompting a top-trending Twitter hashtag and hundreds of negative reviews at sites like Yelp.com. It also prompted threats of violence that forced O’Connor to close the restaurant:

The owners of Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Indiana are getting backlash for agreeing with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

In an interview Crystal O’Connor did with the Blaze Radio and TV Network on Wednesday, she said she is afraid to come out of her house.

She even went as far as saying the family might leave Indiana altogether.
[…]
“I don’t know if we will reopen, if we can,” said Crystal O’Connor, to Blaze Christian Radio.

One of the threats came from the golf and softball coach of a nearby high school:

A Concord High School coach has been suspended after she tweeted about arson in relation to a Walkerton pizzeria whose owners told the media they agree with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Jess Dooley, who is the head coach of the girls golf program and also an assistant coach with the softball and girls basketball programs, took to Twitter Wednesday, April 1, to voice her opinion about the RFRA.

She was adding to the conversation about Memories Pizza, a Walkerton restaurant whose owners announced in a television news segment that they would not cater gay weddings.

Her tweet read: “Who’s going to Walkerton, IN to burn down #memoriespizza w me?”

“The police are helpless in the face of … online threats. Except when they aren’t”

Walkerton police are investigating the threats, and they should. Far too often, as Jezebel Anna Merlan experienced, the police response to online threats ranges from ignorance to indifference:

“Hey Anna, do you like pizza?” I was just sitting down to dinner one evening this past November when I looked through some new Twitter notifications on my phone. My night, I realized regretfully, was about to get very, very stupid.
[…]
I snorted with disbelief: I was being 4channed.
[…]
At this point, you’ve almost certainly heard of 4chan, specifically /b/, an anarchic message board and troll haven known for pulling pranks. Sometimes they’re pretty funny: hijacking a Mountain Dew poll to name a new drink “diabeetus,” gaming an online contest to send cheesy rapper Pitbull to Alaska. (Important note: while 4chan appears to have contributed to the voting on that contest, the actual people who came up with the prank, Boston Phoenix writer David Thorpe and Something Awful’s Jon Hendren, are in no way affiliated with 4chan). Sometimes they’re cruel: /b/ users famously mocked the family of a kid who’d committed suicide, sometimes calling his parents pretending to be him and taunting them: “Hi, I’m Mitchell’s ghost, the front door is locked. Can you come down and let me in?” Sometimes they’re dangerous: In 2012, their pizza-pranking led them to send a delivery person to where Chris Dorner, the ex-LAPD cop on a killing spree, was barricaded.

And sometimes they’re criminal: 4chan is where hacked nude photos of various actresses were posted this summer. It is also where a Washington man confessed to murdering his girlfriend this past November and posted pictures of her nude, garroted body.

The name of that confessed killer was David Kalac – the name the pizza lover had chosen to tweet at me.

Merlan went to the police station, accompanied by an attorney from Gawker Media. The results were hardly encouraging:

“This is, at most, harassment,” he told me. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out. It’s more bark than bite. And anyway, these are Canadian phone numbers and we can’t trace them.” He was referring to some links embedded in the chat, which did sort of look like phone numbers, in that they were strings of numbers.

If anything else happened, Hunt said, “You can always come back and file more.” In the meantime, he added, “Just don’t go on those websites.”

Merlan concludes:

This is the usual lesson: The police are helpless in the face of the mixed signals and technological complexity of online threats. Except they aren’t – especially not when the threats are against police officers.

She documents several recent cases of police moving quickly to arrest people who posted online threats against the police. Fortunately, the Walkerton police have decided not to ignore the threats against Memories Pizza and the O’Connor family.

“They were honest with a reporter in search of a story to fit the media’s narrative”

Of course the real villains in the Memories Pizza story are Alyssa Marino and her ABC57 colleagues, writes The Daily Caller’s Derek Hunter:

There were no complaints nor denials of service to anyone ever, but because of their religious beliefs, Memories Pizza stands in ruin and the family who owns it has had their lives threatened countless times. How did the O’Connor family, owners of Memories, find themselves in this situation? They were honest with a reporter in search of a story to fit the media’s narrative.

Alyssa Marino is a reporter with ABC 57 News in South Bend, Indiana. With her state in the center of a hurricane over religious freedom, Marino must’ve thought she’d had a coup – a devout Christian business owner willing to speak on camera about their religious beliefs and how it impacts the operations of that business.
[…]
So a hypothetical situation that has never occurred was enough for Marino to do a remote outside the business on the ABC 57 nightly newscast and make citizens who’ve never been accused of harming anyone the top story of the night.

The story went viral, as it obviously would, and Memories Pizza is now closed and the O’Connor family is receiving death threats. Crystal O’Connor told Marino, “We’re not discriminating against anyone, that’s just our belief and anyone has the right to believe in anything.” She was right on the first part, her and her family are learning, thanks to “journalists” like Alyssa Marino and Brian Dorman, that she was woefully wrong on the second part.

“I don’t think anyone was really aware the attention this would get”

Marino says she was surprised by the response to her story:

What Marino reported was newsworthy. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence insisted, again and again, that his state’s new law “is not about discrimination.” Yet Marino needed only a few interviews to find a business owner who was willing to declare – on the record – that she would invoke the RFRA and refuse to cater an LGBT wedding … exactly what Gov. Pence said would not happen.

The nationwide shaming of Indiana – what the National Review’s David French called “hysterical anti-Christian bigotry” – is why the Indiana legislature are rewriting the law:

A draft circulated early Wednesday said that the new “religious freedom” law does not authorize a provider – including businesses or individuals – to refuse to offer or provide its services, facilities, goods, or public accommodation to any member of the public based on sexual orientation or gender identity, in addition to race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, or military service.

“The market tempers his discrimination”

Arkansas recently passed a religious freedom bill and, in debating the bill, state legislators explicitly rejected language that would have protected LGBTs. But Walmart CEO Doug McMillon was one of many business and civic leaders to object, and yesterday Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he won’t sign it without changes like those being considered in Indiana. Public shaming, including the threat of lost business, is an effective political tool.

It’s also the right wing’s preferred remedy for discrimination:

If we allowed businesses to refuse service to particular groups based on sexual orientation, or race, age, etc., then we’d wind up with a pre-civil rights era world of restaurants, theaters, bakeries, etc. completely excluding particular groups.

Perhaps we should let them. Why? Because they bear the full cost of that choice.

Here’s an example.

Let’s say a restaurant owner is a misogynist. He just can’t stand women. As a result, he makes his eatery a “men only” establishment. What are the consequences of this decision? First, he loses out on the business he might earn from women coming to eat in his restaurant. Since women make up about 50% of the population, he’s eliminating a potentially large source of revenue. In addition to this, he loses out on a variety of male customers who want to bring their wives, girlfriends, etc. Further, many people, including a lot of men, will find the owner’s policy offensive. As a result, they will refuse to eat there. The owner sees his profits fall. Most likely, he will be forced to close his business.

So what can the owner do? He can continue to indulge his preferences of discriminating against women and lose a ton of business or he can serve women and potentially increase his revenues.

Put simply, the market tempers his discrimination. The market forces of profit and loss mean that he bears the full cost of his bias against women.

But of course that’s a hypothetical. When it happens for real – as it did for Memories Pizza – conservatives howl about “Thought Police” and “lynch mobs”:

In the good old days, i.e., a few months ago, people with firm religious convictions weren’t harassed into abandoning their businesses until they actually refused to commit what they considered to be a sinful, same sex marriage-supportive act.

But now the Thought Police and their media firestorm creators can bring a business to the brink of a shutdown when its owner simply expresses an opinion about something that has never happened, and might never happen.
[…]
Heckuva job, ABC 57, HuffPo, and other lynch mob members.

Except the discrimination happened the moment Crystal O’Connor spoke to Alyssa Marino. What O’Connor said was no different from putting a sign in her window that read “We will not cater LGBT weddings.”

Threats of violence are illegal, and they should be investigated and prosecuted. (And not only when the threats are against police officers or Christian-owned pizzerias.) But the vast majority of the public shaming heaped upon O’Connor and her shop were exactly the remedy that conservatives propose for discrimination … until someone actually uses that remedy.

+++++

Happy Thursday!