A while back, some restaurant, probably in the U.S. South, offered meal discounts to customers coming in on Sunday with a leaflet or bulletin from their church. (I’ve just Googled this and found it was a branch of Denny’s, a national chain, located in Texas.) As I recall, the ACLU or some other civil-rights organization threatened to sue Denny’s for religious discrimination, and the restaurant caved. After all, it’s a violation of federal law to discriminate in public facilities on the basis of religion.
And that should have been the end of that. But, like the Laernean Hydra, when you cut off one religious head, another replaces it. And so, in the last two weeks, many people have called my attention to stories in several places (including the Inquisitr, The Raw Story, and Christian Today about a restaurant in Winston-Salem, North Carolina—Mary’s Gourmet Diner—that was doing something worse: giving customers a 15% discount on their food if they prayed in public in the restaurant!
I mentioned this to a European friend, who was shocked, as, she said, no such thing is seen in Europe (I’m just reporting what I was told). But surely, I said, some people bow their heads and say a silent grace in rstaurants. “No way,” she said. European readers weigh in: have you see this happen? If so, is it frequent?
The Raw Story reports:
[Customer Jordan] Smith told HLN that she and two business colleagues prayed over their breakfast during a Wednesday outing there. Later, the waitress allegedly “came over at the end of the meal and said, ‘Just so you know, we gave you a 15% discount for praying,’ which I’d never seen before.”
Mary’s Gourmet Diner garnered notice after one customer, Jordan Smith, posted a picture online of her receipt from a recent visit, which contained a 15 percent discount for “praying in public.”
Here’s the image. Clearly “praying in public” is something programmed into the cash register, and gets you a 15% discount:
Caught with its pants down, the restaurant denied that this was its policy:
While one employee told HLN that it is done regularly, restaurant management denied the allegation in a separate post Friday afternoon.
“I will say that it is not a ‘policy,’” the post stated. “It’s a gift we give at random to customers who take a moment before their meal.”
The post went on to clarify that the “moment” could include prayer or “a moment to breathe,” and that the manager appreciated the “abundance of beautiful food” in the U.S. after living in an unidentified “3rd world country.”
“I NEVER take that for granted,” the post stated. “It warms my heart to see people with an attitude of gratitude. Prayer, meditation or just breathing while being grateful opens the heart chakra.”
But as NPR reported, other visitors to the restaurant’s page questioned the nature of the “gift.”
“Do you give prayer discounts to people who aren’t of your religion?” one commenter asked. “Like Sikh’s or Hindus or Muslims or Jews?”
Others reportedly wondered whether the restaurant’s discount for religious displays violated parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination based on religion in public places.
Yeah, right: a “gift”! Even if it was a “gift,” it’s still illegal, as such gifts aren’t available to nonbelievers. I wonder if a Muslim, prostrate on the floor of the restaurant, would get the same discount? My guess is that he’d be asked to leave.
At any rate, as Censor of the Year for 2013 I thought it was my duty to report this to the Freedom from Religion Foundation, but it turned out that they were already on the case. (The FFRF is the Official Website Secular Organization™, and is a great outfit! Give them $$ and join!). They sent me a copy of a letter that Elizabeth Cavell, one of their staff attorneys, sent to Mary’s Gourmet restaurant, and I reproduce it below. It turns out that such discounts do indeed violate the Civil Rights Act. As the letter says, “Any promotions must be available to all customers regardless of religious preference or practice on a non-discriminatory basis.”
The U.S. is soaked in this kind of deference to faith, and it both embarrasses and disgusts me. It’s fine to practice religion in your home, though I don’t believe a word of it, but imposing it on the public by favoring religious customers is both unconscionable and illegal. I’ll report back with the result of this letter.
I’m adding this lest someone misunderstand my point: it’s perfectly fine to say grace or pray in a restaurant so long as you don’t try to involve the other cusomers. What is not right is for restaurants to give discounts to those who engage in religious displays, for that is public discrimination against religion, a violation of the Civil Rights Act.
Meanwhile, as far as I know there is still silence from Lebanon, Missouri. . .