WALKERTON, Ind. — Hundreds of thousands in donations have poured in out of a show of support to a pizzeria that was forced to close after it faced arson and death threats by homosexual activists and advocates simply for expressing their biblical beliefs on marriage when asked by a local news station.
The matter began when reporter Alyssa Marino of ABC 57 News in South Bend set out to interview area business owners about their reaction to the controversy over the recently signed Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Among the businesses that she visited was Memories Pizza in Walkerton, a place that is decorated with crosses and quotes from Scripture, and begins each morning with prayer.
The establishment had never turned anyone away, nor were there any complaints about the pizzeria, and owner Crystal O’Connor explained to Marino that if a homosexual couple or someone of another religion came to eat there, Memories Pizza would never deny them service.
“I just walked into their shop and asked how they feel,” Marino explained on Twitter. “They’ve never been asked to cater a same-sex wedding.”
However, one sentence in O’Connor’s response was highlighted in Marino’s report, as she stated that because of her Christian beliefs, she would have to draw the line at same-sex weddings, which some Christians believe would be a form of participation.
“If a gay couple was to come in—like say, they wanted us to provide them pizzas for a wedding, we would have to say ‘no,'” O’Connor replied in response to Marino’s question.
“We are a Christian establishment,” she said. “We’re not discriminating against anyone. That’s just our belief and anyone has the right to believe in anything.”
Marino soon published an online report with the angle of “RFRA: Michiana business wouldn’t cater a gay wedding,” and the nighttime television report read “Restaurant denies some services to same-sex couples.”
The story quickly went viral, and homosexual activists and advocates lashed out at O’Connor and Memories Pizza. Yelp was flooded with hundreds of negative reviews and vulgar photographs, and those angry about O’Connor’s response left messages on Facebook wishing bodily harm and death to the business owner.
“I pray to God all of you get food poisoning!” one commenter named Alex Ollmedo wrote.
“I pray your store burns to the ground with your family in it,” another named Jeff Green lashed out.
Police were called in when Jessica Dooley, a coach at an Elkhart County high school, Tweeted, “Who’s going to Walkerton with me to burn down Memories Pizza?”
Dooley was suspended without pay, and prosecutors are reviewing the matter as they consider whether to press criminal charges.
Police have also been patroling the business due to ongoing threats, and told ABC News that the patrols “will go on as long as threats continue to be made.”
The pizzeria soon closed shop and the O’Connor family went into hiding, fearing for their lives. O’Connor told reporters that her family was even considering leaving the state. She said that she the business was providing the funds for her to pay her rent, and that the matter could now harm her personally.
“I don’t know if we will re-open, or if we can—if it’s safe to re-open,” she told reporters. “We’re in hiding basically, staying in the house.”
As a result, Lawrence Jones of The Blaze launched a GoFundMe page on Wednesday to help “relieve the financial loss endured by the proprietors’ stand for faith.” With an initial goal of raising $200,000 for the business, supporters of Memories Pizza from across the country flooded the page with donations, and the fundraising effort far exceeded its goal within just 24 hours.
As of press time, just two days after the page was launched, over $711,000 have been raised in support of the O’Connor’s religious rights, with over 24,000 donors participating in the effort. The GoFundMe page has been shared over 64,000 times.
“We are with you Memories Pizza. Stand strong against the haters,” one commenter named Rand Foreman wrote on the pizzeria’s Facebook page.
“I am so sorry that your family business is experiencing such hatred and bigotry,” wrote another named Colleen Swan. “Yes, you are being discriminated against for standing up for your beliefs. The ‘tolerant’ are showing so much intolerance and spreading hatred and division. Relationships will never improve this way. Bullying Christians is no better than bullying the LGBT community.”
Yelp also suggested to the Huffington Post that it may remove the hundreds of reviews posted against Memories Pizza for irrelevance.
“Non-germane, media-fueled reviews typically violate our Content Guidelines,” the unidentified spokesperson stated. “One of these deals with relevance. For example, reviews aren’t the place for rants about a business’s employment practices, political ideologies, extraordinary circumstances, or other matters that don’t address the core of the consumer experience.”
Photo: ABC 57 News