A restaurant in Richmond last week canceled a reservation for a private event being held by a conservative Christian organization, citing the group’s opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
The group, the Family Foundation, was set to host a dessert reception for supporters on Nov. 30, the group’s president, Victoria Cobb, wrote in a blog post describing the incident. About an hour and a half before it was slated to start, one of the restaurant’s owners called to cancel it, she wrote. “As our VP of Operations explained that guests were arriving at their restaurant shortly, she asked for an explanation,” Cobb wrote. “Sure enough, an employee looked up our organization, and their wait staff refused to serve us.”
The Family Foundation is based in Richmond and advocates for “policies based on biblical principles.” It has lobbied against same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
In an interview, Cobb said that since she posted about it, she has heard from people alarmed by the story and from other dining establishments making it clear they would be welcome. “A lot of people are outraged that a restaurant wants to make a litmus test at the door,” she said. “Everyone should be concerned that people are being denied service based on their politics.”
In her blog post, Cobb likened the restaurant’s move to establishments that refused to serve Black customers in the 1950s and ’60s, and she decried what she called a “double standard” by liberals who think a Colorado baker should not be allowed to refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
Legal experts say neither of those are apt analogies. While it’s illegal to discriminate against someone because of their race or religion, the restaurant’s refusal had to do with the group’s actions, said Elizabeth Sepper, a professor at the University of Texas. “It’s about the overall positions and policies the group has taken — it’s not about Christian vs. non-Christian,” she said. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, D.C., Seattle and the Virgin Islands specifically protect people from being refused service because of their political affiliation or ideology.
Reached by phone, Metzger co-owner Kjell Anderson said the owners had no comment beyond the Instagram post.
Restaurants have made news for taking issue with their patrons’ politics. Sarah Sanders, then the White House press secretary and now the governor-elect of Arkansas, was asked to leave the Red Hen in Lexington, Va., in 2018. The owner of the restaurant, Stephanie Wilkinson, wrote that she thought Sanders was “a person whose actions in the service of our country we felt violated basic standards of humanity.” And a judge in 2018 sided with a New York bar that ejected a customer for wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat in support of President Donald Trump.
If past is prologue, Metzger’s move — which was first reported by Virginia Business — is likely to bring it both criticism and support. Wilkinson described the aftermath of the incident with Sanders — which made headlines around the world — as intense. Her phone lines were hacked, she and her staff had private information about them posted online, and many of them received death threats. People took to Yelp, leaving fake negative reviews, and made reservations they had no intention of keeping. But Wilkinson said people also showed their support by driving in from miles away and by donating to local charities.
As of Tuesday, Metzger’s Yelp page was frozen and an “Unusual Activity Alert” was added. “This business recently received increased public attention, which often means people come to this page to post their views on the news,” the notice reads. “While we don’t take a stand one way or the other when it comes to this incident, we’ve temporarily disabled the posting of content to this page as we work to investigate whether the content you see here reflects actual consumer experiences rather than the recent events.”
The restaurant and the foundation used interest in the event to fundraise. Metzger on Saturday posted an image of a bourbon-based cocktail dubbed “Cracks in the Foundation” and said it would donate the profits from its sale to Equality Virginia, a group that advocates for LGBTQ rights. “We are so grateful to our many guests and neighbors for their support the past few days!” read the Instagram post. “To say thank you we are donating all proceeds from this cocktail to @equalityva tonight!”
And in its blog post describing the incident, the Family Foundation sought donations, too. “Will you consider a donation today to support our efforts to ensure that no Virginian will ever have to worry about being refused a simple meal because of his or her religious beliefs?” the post read.