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Libertarians must stand up for religious liberty

Yesterday a small Indiana pizza parlor called Memories Pizza quietly told a local news station that it wouldn’t cater to gay weddings. Hours later, Memories shut down after being besieged by criticism and fake orders.

Since then Google has flushed Memories Pizza down Orwell’s memory hole, erasing any evidence of its existence from Google Maps. The eatery’s Yelp rating has been depressed to two stars. A Concord high school coach declared he was going to “burn down” Memories and asked other Twitter users to be his accomplices in arson.

Yes, in an age of endless war, meddling government, stagnant wages, and towering debt, we’ve finally found the root of all political evil: unsuspecting Christians tossing dough in the air. Note that the owners of Memories didn’t say they wouldn’t serve gay customers; only that they wouldn’t serve at gay weddings.

There’s a world of difference between those two stipulations, and yet that daylight may not even be acknowledged by Indiana’s new religious freedom law. As I wrote two days ago, there’s no precedent for how an RFRA of Indiana’s magnitude would intersect with long-standing prohibitions on discrimination in court. RFRAs are usually drawn upon in cases that have nothing to do with marriage—Muslims who don’t want to shave their beards in prison and that sort of thing. The notion that this is Jim Crow shambling out of the grave is pure nonsense.

Here’s Robby Soave writing at Reason yesterday:

You tell me: Who has the power here? Is it Memories Pizza? Or is it the thousands of people flooding the joint’s Yelp page with hatred; the hundreds of celebrities, athletes, and businessmen denouncing the discriminators publicly; the dozens of corporations—including mega-corporations like Walmart—denouncing RFRAs and threatening vast economic boycotts against states that implement them (and in doing so, exercising First Amendment rights most liberals were terrified to extend to corporations); and the many government actors, both local and statewide, prepared to punish Memories Pizza and similar shops?

Government’s most vital function is to protect the rights of minorities—even unpopular minorities.

That’s exactly it. The dichotomy here is not between an oppressive anti-gay patriarchy and pockets of heroic civil rights demonstrators. It’s between a calcified cultural consensus with public opinion overwhelmingly on its side and scattered Christian dissenters politely declining to serve at gay weddings. In the case of Memories Pizza, the majority has already forced its closure, intimidated its proprietors, and marred its Yelp page with pornography. Why must it also harness the power of government to squash what little latitude Memories has left?

This is why libertarians must stand behind Memories and any other business that opts out of gay weddings—even though they might not want to. It’s easy to defend the victims of sprawling surveillance superstructures and destructive technocratic health care laws, with their ready-made cast of heroes and villains. It’s far more difficult to defend those you find wrong or even morally reprehensible.

But defend they must. Libertarians love to write pieces hurling pox at both houses, but in this case that isn’t enough. On religious dissent, the right is right and the left is wrong. Libertarians like to brandish that quote often misattributed to Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” It’s time now to apply it, with free association standing in for free speech.

There’s no one better positioned to make these arguments than libertarians. Conservatives are sticking up for religious dissenters, but they’re doing so with a hefty load of cultural baggage that makes their contentions more easily dismissed by secularists. And liberals have plunged headfirst into their worst, illiberal, politically correct, insane-Salon.com-headline impulses.

When it comes to making a case for religious freedom from a wholly secular and legal standpoint with the culture war milieu stripped away, libertarians do it best. Many of them already are—and should continue to do so.

Matt Purple About the author:
Matt Purple is the Deputy Editor for Rare Politics. Follow him on Twitter @MattPurple
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