The Christian owners of a small Indiana pizzeria who became the first to publicly state they would deny catering an LGBT couple’s wedding in the wake of the state’s new and controversial Religious Freedom Law, said the business was forced to close Wednesday after a wave of online criticism and threats.
Shortly after Memories Pizza owners told a local TV station Tuesday that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act would allow them to deny catering a same-sex wedding, 1-star Yelp reviews rolled in denouncing the business.
The owners of the Walkerton, Indiana, pizzeria told ABC 57 that they would not deny service to same-sex couples, or a couple belonging to another religion, but added that they would not cater a same-sex wedding if asked.
“We’re not discriminating against anyone, that’s just our belief and anyone has the right to believe in anything,” co-owner Crystal O’Connor told the station.
Crystal’s father, Kevin O’Connor, also defended the decision.
“That lifestyle is something they choose,” he said. “I choose to be heterosexual. They choose to be homosexual. Why would I be beat over the head to go along with something they choose?”
In less than a day, thousands of negative reviews were posted on the restaurant’s Yelp page and a fake website with the company’s name was created.
Walkerton Police Department officials told BuzzFeed News that investigators were looking into several threats made against Memories Pizza, including those reported by the owners and posted on social media. At least one case has been forwarded to prosecutors.
As of Wednesday, 2,870 posts on Memories Pizza’s Yelp page had been removed, a spokeswoman for the online rating site told BuzzFeed News.
In a written statement, she said the site’s content guidelines prohibit comments and reviews that are “non-germane, media-fueled.”
“Yelp reviews are required to describe a firsthand consumer experience, not what someone read in the news,” the company said in a written statement. “Our support team ultimately removes reviews that violate these guidelines.”
“Yeah, we’re in hiding, basically,” O’Connor told Dana Loesch of The Blaze. “Basically staying in the house.”
Asked whether the family was considering moving out of Walkerton, Indiana, because of the reaction, O’Connor said the family had “thought about it.”
At least one tweet from a nearby high school’s golf coach prompted law enforcement to step in.
The Twitter account has since been deleted, but Concord schools Supt. Wayne Stubbs told ABC 57 Dooley had been suspended until further notice.
Walkerton police also issued a statement saying the case has been forwarded to prosecutors.
But not all of the reaction online was critical of the O’Connors.
A GoFundMe page was set up by a contributor to Loesch’s show on The Blaze. The online effort raised more than $32,000 in just four hours.
The page drew in supporters of the pizzeria and Indiana’s Religious Freedom Law. More than 800 people donated to the fund in that time.
By Thursday, the account had raised more than $380,000. When the online fundraiser was stopped Friday evening, it had reached $842,387.
Lawrence B. Jones III, a contributor for Dana Loesch’s show on The Blaze said the show decided to set up the account to support the O’Connor family.
“We don’t know how long they’re going to stay out of business,” Jones told BuzzFeed News. “It’s supposed to go toward up-keeping their finances.”
After the original goal of $25,000 was reached, Jones said staff at the show decided to continue raising the goal by $5,000 as long as people continued donating.
“One of the concerns the owners raised is this is their only financial income, so they have nothing if they can’t open,” he said.
The money can also go toward the family’s moving costs if they choose to relocate, he said. The show plans to invite the family to the show and present them with the funds.
On Wednesday, news vans crowded Roosevelt Road in Walkerton, Indiana, where the small pizzeria is located. Neighboring businesses told BuzzFeed News the pizza shop had not opened its doors all day.
BuzzFeed News also made repeated attempts to reach the O’Connors, but there were no answers at the business.
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