During the recent media commotion over Indiana’s religious freedom law, Memories Pizza owners were asked hypothetically whether they would cater for a gay wedding. They answered that they would not, for religious reasons.
Chaos erupted. Death threats, arson threats, and terrible reviews poured in from people who claimed the restaurant was not tolerant. The family-owned business was forced to close.
“Rather than allowing this family to simply have their opinion, which they were asked to give, outraged people grabbed the torches and began a campaign to destroy this small business in small town Indiana,” Lawrence Jones, television opinion contributor for Blaze TV, wrote on the GoFundMe page he and some coworkers set up for the family.
“All [the commotion was] for having an opinion that is rooted in faith,” Jones continued. “No one was turned away. No one was discriminated against. It was a hypothetical question asked by a news reporter who had questionable motives to begin with.”
The GoFundMe page went viral. In a little over two days, 29,161 people donated $842,442. The number would likely have continued climbing, but the page was closed to donations.
Many of the donors left beautiful, heartwarming comments that expressed a vision of true tolerance. Among them was Courtney Hoffman, a self-identified “member of the gay community.”
“As a member of the gay community, I would like to apologize for the mean spirited attacks on you and your business,” Hoffman wrote. “I know many gay individuals who fully support your right to stand up for your beliefs and run your business according to those beliefs. We are outraged at the level of hate and intolerance that has been directed at you and I sincerely hope that you are able to rebuild.”
When asked why she donated, Hoffman replied, “My girlfriend and I are small business owners, and we think there is a difference between operating in a public market space and then attaching the name of your business to a private event,” she said. “Like, if we were asked to set up at an anti-gay marriage rally, I mean, we would have to decline.”
Hoffman said the “horrible, hate-filled attacks” were not representative of many of the people she knows.
“The gay community that we know knows full well what it’s like to be condemned for doing nothing but living your life according to your beliefs,” she said. “We know so many gay individuals that fully support the freedom of living your life according to your beliefs and feel that freedom extends to everyone, even the people that we don’t agree with.”
One of Hoffman’s dreams is that people become truly tolerant. “There’s this tendency to group people together — they are either one thing or they are another,” she said. “I just think there’s a lot of room for differences and similarities between all of these businesses, all of these communities, and if we can remember that differences don’t equal maliciousness, and try to find what we have in common — you know, the ands instead of the ors. Maybe we can move beyond threats of violence and have open discussions of the things that we don’t agree on.”
The responses to Hoffman’s donation were “so positive and amazing,” with many expressing the wish to see more people like this lady. “This is what equal tolerance looks like! Thank you for people like her,” one commenter wrote.
Another said, “That’s the greatest thing I’ve seen in years.. Why can’t more people be like that. Agree to disagree and accept. Well done.”
Multiple responses said things such as “this is what real tolerance looks like” and “this is exactly what tolerance is.”
Another gentleman, Buz Smith, donated $250 to the pizzeria. He wrote, “My partner and I have been together almost 27 years. The Democratic Leadership hi-jacked the Gay community many years ago and continues to spew the intolerance of religion as they promote the tolerances of their choices. This is one big community organized ploy with the media to do harm to people with religious convictions, conservatives, capitalism on and on. Love Peace and Happiness to the Family!!!”
Lawrence Jones wrote on the GoFundMe page that the original goal of $25,000 “was to help the family stave off the burdensome cost of having the media parked out front, activists tearing them down, and no customers coming in. Our goal was simply to help take one thing off this family’s plate as the strangers sought to destroy them.”
“Thank you for helping us do some good for this family who were scared and in hiding just 24 hours before this writing,” he added. “All money, save whatever percentage GoFundMe takes, will be transferred directly to whichever bank account the O’Connors wish to use. Show producers are in direct contact with the family to ensure that they never feel like they are being left out of what is going on.”
“Thank you to everyone for your generosity.”
The next steps for the pizzeria, which include working with a financial advisor, can be read here.