Restaurant refuses service to conservative Christian group, citing staff’s ‘dignity, comfort and safety’

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A Virginia restaurant has found itself at the center of controversy after refusing service to a conservative Christian organization over the group's opposition to abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

On Nov. 31, Richmond restaurant Metzger Bar and Butchery cancelled a reservation for a private event from the Family Foundation, as first reported by Virginia Business. The following day, Metzger posted about its decision on Instagram, citing the organization's views on abortion and LGBTQ rights as its reason for refusing them service.

“In eight years of service we have very rarely refused service to anyone who wished to dine with us,” reads the Instagram post. “Recently we refused service to a group that had booked an event with us after the owners of Metzger found out it was a group of donors to a political organization that seeks to deprive women and LGBTQ+ persons of their basic human rights in Virginia.”

The restaurant then wrote that management has refused service in the past to anybody who has made staff feel “uncomfortable or unsafe,” saying this was the driving force behind the decision.

“Many of our staff are women and/or members of the LGBTO+ community,” reads the post. “All of our staff are people with rights who deserve dignity and a safe work environment. We respect our staff’s established rights as humans and strive to create a work environment where they can do their jobs with dignity, comfort and safety.”

Neither Metzger nor the Family Foundation responded to's requests for comment.

Metzger Bar and Butchery in Richmond, VA. (Jay Paul / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Metzger Bar and Butchery in Richmond, VA. (Jay Paul / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The same day, the Family Foundation’s president Victoria Cobb penned a blog post with the organization’s side of the incident.

“Have you ever been denied a meal because of your beliefs? Last night, our team and supporters got that firsthand experience when Metzger’s Bar and Butchery in Richmond, VA refused to service our pre-reserved event, leaving us scrambling just moments before,” Cobb writes, adding that the group had planned a gathering of supporters and interested parties at the restaurant.

“About an hour and a half before the event was set to take place, one of the restaurant’s owners called our team to cancel the event,” reads the post. “As our VP of Operations explained that guests were arriving at their restaurant shortly, she asked for an explanation. Sure enough, an employee looked up our organization, and their wait staff refused to serve us.”

Cobb goes on to compare the situation to a famous 1960 incident where a department store refused service to 34 Virginia Union University students because they were Black.

“Welcome to the double standard of the left,” writes Cobb, further likening the incident to the case of Colorado baker Jack Phillips. Phillips was the victor of a 2018 Supreme Court case over his refusal to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Later, in 2021, Phillips was found to have violated discrimination laws when he refused to bake a birthday cake for a trans woman.

“We believe there is no square inch in all the universe over which God has not claimed ‘Mine,’ and that includes the arenas of civil government and public policy where we spend much of our time,” reads the "About" page on the Family Foundation’s website. The organization advocates for "policies based on biblical principles," including lobbying against same-sex marriage, abortion rights and teaching critical race theory in public schools.

Since the incident, Yelp has frozen reviews for Metzger, citing that the business is being monitored by Yelp’s support team for content related to media reports. Yelp takes this action when a business makes the news for “something controversial,” saying on its website that people often go to Yelp with the intention of sharing their views on the situation in a review, photo or other content.

“These comments typically don’t reflect a personal consumer experience with the business, which should always be the focus of user content on Yelp,” reads a post on Yelp’s website.

The Family Foundation is similarly facing increased attention. The organization’s “Staff” page has similarly been disabled, with a message citing “an increase in inappropriate messages being left for our staff” as the reason for the change.

The legal perspective

This incident comes as arguments are being heard in another high profile case over anti-discrimination, free speech and religious freedom in the case of 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis. The plaintiff in the case is Colorado’s Lorie Smith, an evangelical Christian web designer who refuses to create wedding websites for same-sex couples despite her state of residence’s stringent anti-discrimination laws.

“One reason why I think the restaurant story is getting a lot of attention is because it happened on basically the same day as the arguments in the Supreme Court about the web designer,” Richard W. Garnett, a Notre Dame Law School professor and director of the Notre Dame Program on Church, State & Society, tells “And so for this restaurant story to come out, it kind of looks like, ‘Whoa, now the tables are turned.’”

Garnett says that restaurants are governed by public accommodations laws, which stipulate that restaurants are not allowed to deny service on the basis of certain protected categories like race, sex, religion and at times sexual orientation based on local laws.

“These public accommodation laws have been around for a long time and started out having to do with making sure people had access to things like trains, movie theaters, restaurants and so on,” Garnett says.

The American Civil Liberties Union says that, while there is no federal law that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in public accommodations like restaurants, theaters and other businesses, there are state and local laws — like those in Colorado — where this kind of discrimination is banned.

On the other hand, Garnett says that discrimination based on the basis of political beliefs are only protected in a few areas in the United States — including Washington, D.C. — but not Virginia, where this case occurred.

“Generally speaking, public accommodations laws don’t protect people from exclusion on the basis of things like political expression, political affiliation or political beliefs,” says Garnett. “But, in some jurisdictions, the local governments actually have added protections for people’s political affiliation.”

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