Restaurant gives discounts to customers praying in public

August 6, 2014 • 6:04 am

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 InquisitrThe 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.”

Screen shot 2014-08-05 at 2.37.37 AM Screen shot 2014-08-05 at 2.37.50 AMThe 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. .  .


155 thoughts on “Restaurant gives discounts to customers praying in public

  1. On that first bill, is there still tax paid on the prayer discount?

    Never seen public prayer in a UK restaurant!

    1. It is very rare in Edinburgh, Scotland where I live. I have only seen it done once, and that was at a church restaurant, which is open to the public at large. I go there every once in a while and have never seen it since. No discount for attendance.

      1. I’m Irish, I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed someone praying before a meal in public – or in private for that matter. Even at Christmas we just sit down and eat until we’re The Blerch (Oatmeal Comic) and we can waddle to the sofa for one extra thin mint or two.

          1. I came to the same conclusion about the rarity of prayer-even at a restaurant run by a church, I have only seen it once over the course of a year.

    2. I once had a creepy, hilarious too, encounter involving xians and a restaurant once.

      A colleague and I once stopped to eat lunch in a small diner kind of place in a small town in Florida. As we walked in and sat down I immediately felt something was not quite right. Everyone was grim of mien, not a smile anywhere. It was very quiet, almost no talking. I then noticed one man with a smudge of dirt on his forehead. Then I noticed someone else had a similar smudge.

      I swear, at that point I started seeing in black and white, and I heard the theme music from the twilight zone. I was looking from one grim face to another and they all had smudges in the middle of their foreheads! Holy shit, WTF! I leaned close to my colleague and whispered, “holy shit, all these people have smudges on their foreheads, WTF?”

      He looked around and then chuckled. And then started laughing. “Every heard of Ash Wednesday,” he said? As it turns out, I had heard of Ash Wednesday before and new the basics of it, but I had never heard of, or seen, this silly ass ritual before. That these adults could take something so ridiculous so serious really cracked me up. I chuckled all the way through lunch, and my colo(u)r vision returned as well.

      1. Ha ha, I would have been mapping all the exits near me and planning the quickest escape route!

        I have a Catholic friend who had the smear on her forehead, having come from church on Ash Wednesday. I told her she had a smear on her head (being the big non-believer I am, I didn’t remember the ash Wednesday thing) and then she explained it to me.

    3. I’ve never seen or heard of prayer in a New Zealand restaurant, although there probably are people who say grace in them sometimes. My Christian family members would either get the giggles or roll their eyes if they saw it. (I’m the only atheist in my family.)

      1. To be clear, these same family members say grace before meals at home. They don’t think much of those who feel the need to do it in public.

    4. 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?

      Never noticed it myself, but I tend to take a “no prisoners” approach to going to restaurants, on the rare occasions when I do so. What would that be, 3 or 4 times so far this year?
      In the public canteens on the various rigs? Again, I’ve never noticed it and remembered it. Not even with the bunch of deep-south rednecks who constitute about 1/3 of the crew on my present installation.
      Hang on, there’s a faint bell from the Korean rig – with a Burmese labouring workforce – I think someone did it at the Xmas meal, but since I was just grabbing a sandwich and heading beck to my desk, I didn’t hang around to find out how much stick they were giving the rest of the crew.

  2. Have to say, never seen anyone saying grace in a public restaurant. In people’s homes yes, and when I was younger before school meals (I refused to participate)

    But in a public restaurant? Someone would probably call a doctor.

    1. O, I am a little, little kiddo of the 1950s. What very, very, very few times we farmers’ children in the Midwest even got to a restaurant, I saw there this exact muck occurring all of the dang time.

      Thank you for posting on this matter, Dr Coyne. When I first saw this from FFRF in my inbox yesterday, I was so, so angered because of

      i) its obvious inanity and inequity and
      ii) that triggering flashback to my youth

      at when I was literally, at an eatery no less at where I as a wee child about to be ( so very rarely ) treated to a Louise Sawyer’s ( of Thelma and Louise ) diner – style fries and cheeseburger, made nauseous upon having to witness — in public — this frickin’ display of adults’ stupidity and abuse of their children ( per C Hitchens and others ) — many of the children in such a small, small town from school … … I knew !


    2. Re: Saying Grace in public.

      Alas, the spouse demands it, and I go along, just to keep the peace.

      For perspective, she also believes that the neighbors are spying on us with cameras and listening devices. This is funny in a sitcom but not if you live it.


    3. Here in North Carolina (USA), it’s very common. I’d say in a full middlebrow restaurant at lunchtime with a mixed crowd, 20-50% of tables will pray when the food arrives before eating. And I’m not talking about families, but groups of co-workers out for lunch.

      1. I don’t recall praying, but the last time I was in Henderson NC about 17 years ago, my African American dinner companion and I were neglected by the waitstaff for about an hour before she whispered to me that we should leave because people were staring.
        After some loud comments about the service we finally got our dinner. My wake-up call to racism.

  3. Since Elizabeth mentions chakras, a Hindu concept I am familiar with from yoga classes, I assume she is of the universalist school of belief and is telling the truth when she says she gives the discount to people of any type of belief who take the time to give thanks for their good fortune. It’s still a little weird, and I can’t help feeling that if she can afford to give such discounts she is charging too much for her food. Of course the number people doing this sort of thing in public is no doubt very low, even in the USA.

  4. We were passing through Waynesboro, Mississippi (perhaps 50 miles northwest of Mobile, Alabama) and saw this:

    20 percent discount was given to those who brought in a church bulletin.

    But my stance is a bit softer; this might be akin to offering a x percent discount to someone who, say, brought in a ticket stub from a basketball game; this might be strictly a business decision.

    1. I encountered a similar sign in southern Alabama. I photographed it, and sent a copy to FFRF along with a description of the situation and the address of the restaurant.

      FFRF followed up on it and the restaurant removed the sign.

    2. It’s discrimination against the nonreligious. I doubt know if a basketball game discount is legal, but religious discounts are certainly illegal. Do you think that giving someone a 15% discount because they’re white is “strictly a business decision”? If not, what’s the difference between that and the religious break?

      1. Sports discounts are pretty common, and they’re often conditional on the team doing well (made up example: if the Blackhawks score 5 goals in a game, bring your ticket stub from that game in to [restaurant] and get a free order of wings).

        I don’t think there’s anything unconstitutional or illegal about those, because the sports venues do not discriminate against anyone when selling tickets, nor do they require some religious profession to attend.

      2. “Do you think that giving someone a 15% discount because they’re white is “strictly a business decision”? If not, what’s the difference between that and the religious break?”

        Excellent question. I suppose that I am so jaded that I see attending a church/temple/mosque/synagogue/ethical society service as something one “does” rather than what one “is”; anyone can go to these if they want to (I think)

        Now I would be upset if, say, only a church bulletin counted and, say, a synagogue one did not.

        I might not be remembering correctly, but I think that one of these restaurants actually counted some humanist meeting (read in the Friendly Atheist?)

    3. It is pretty common to give restaurant discounts for attending a local game/event. Its a way to bring in customers who are looking to eat after a long secular outing. I see nothing wrong with that. It is possible that a restaurant manager would do a similar thing for church goers, with the same intention of simply bringing in business on a Sunday. Maybe no discrimination was intended, but….

      1. The fact that church bulletin discounts are good for business does not mean that they aren’t illegally discriminatory. Maybe the restaurant owner is a non-believer. Intent really isn’t relevant.

      2. A Sikh in full beard and turban needs to grab a Pentacostalist bulletin and bring to a restaurant for the discount. See how that goes …

    4. I’m sure you’re right as in it probably was as much of a marketing strategy as anything else. But, there is no law expressly forbidding discrimination against people whom chose not to attend a basketball game. The civil rights act of 1964 expressly forbids religious discrimination. It does not speak to a preference for basketball so, there is no legal basis for a discrimination claim on those grounds.

  5. As much as I think this is dopey and silly I don’t see how anyone’s rights are infringed upon. I can still shop here without discrimination and might be happy to while I conspicuously DO NOT pray. As long as this is a privately owned business in compliance with licensing they have the right to do as they will.

    1. “I can still shop here without discrimination…”

      No you can’t. You are not allowed to get a discount that is offered to religious people who practice in public.

      They can also not offer discounts to white people for celebrating their white heritage in public.

    2. Do you have any idea what you’re talking about? Do you think they have the right to not serve black people because they’re a private business? That, after all, was the defense eliminated by the Civil Rights act of 1964.

      It would be lovely if you’d admit that you were wrong. And you’re wrong about the religious issue, too. People have the right to say grace in a public restaurant; they don’t have the right to get a discount for it.

      1. Do you belive that a business has a right to offer any coupons? Are you offended that AARP members are often given discounts? Isn’t that age discrimination? What if I miss the fifty-cents off for Lemon Plege in Women’s Day. Is the discrimanatory against readers of the NYT? BTW – I think this thread is wonderful example of the Dawkins thread from yesterday: oh – you aren’t offended that dopes who pay get a dollar off their oatmeal? Surely you minorities!

        1. Yes, I was right, you don’t understand the law or its justification. It’s not age discrimination by law to give discounts to seniors, as they often have less money. It’s a form of income redistribution.

          And since you’re doubling down instead of simply admitting that you didn’t understand the law, you’re out of here. Your invective and willful misunderstanding makes you an excellent candidate for some other websites I know.

          1. Jerry, I fully agree with you regarding the religious discrimination in this case, and you are correct that the law allows for discounts based on AARP membership and for senior discounts in general.

            I am not convinced that this necessarily should be the case. You are also right that seniors are often poor, but there are plenty of well off seniors who can afford to pay full price whereas a middle aged person who is in poverty doesn’t have access to these discounts simply for being the wrong age. This applies to the opposite end of the age spectrum as well (college students often get discounts as well). An even more egregious example of discrimination in my mind are “ladies night” promotions. I’ve never grasped how offering free admission or free drinks to someone based on gender can be in compliance with antidiscrimination laws.

            The reason I bring these two examples up is that this can be the type of examples people use to (incorrectly) justify other forms of discrimination. Obviously, laws should be modified in the direction of less discrimination; I’m not convinced that discounts solely based on age doesn’t cross this line.

              1. I would think that one could theoretically justify them with the same argument about income inequality (women make less than men on average). I still don’t think this justifies ladies’ night promotions, nor do I think it justifies discounts solely based on age. That is, I think there’s more effective ways, such as means tests and Government subsidies to address poverty. Perhaps a Government voucher demonstrating need in the same way that medicaid or food stamps work would be a better way to target discounts towards those.

                Anyhow, this made me curious and the legality of these promotions is far from clear as it seems to have been deferred to the states.

          2. I don’t find the income argument to be convincing. AARP discounts are age-based, not income-based. You could argue as well that black people tend to have lower incomes than white people, so discounts for black people are justifiable because they redistribute wealth.
            In actuality, I’m old enough to be an AARP member and my income is higher than it has ever been and my net worth is much higher than it was 30 years ago – when a discount would have really made a difference to me and my family. Senior citizen discounts on property taxes in my city annoy the hell out of me since all my older, rather wealthy colleagues have property tax discounts and they certainly don’t need them. If you want a means-tested discount, I’d be all for it.

            A better justification for a senior citizen discount is that many senior citizens have smaller appetites and a smaller portion along with a lower price makes sense.

            None of this should be construed to mean that I don’t agree with you at all about the prayer discount, BTW. In addition, and aside from the issue involved, if people are praying conspicuously enough that their server takes notice and can reliably award them their meal discount, they’re pretty likely to be sanctimonious assholes.

            1. I’ll add one more thing to your portion based discount. It should be available to everyone, order the light meal, pay less. I do think this is more the thinking when it comes to kids meals at restaurants. The portions are generally much smaller, and it doesn’t hurt in attracting people like me when I take my kids out. Paying full price for 4 meals can get quite expensive, especially when the kids decide not to eat all the food half the time.

              1. As much as I love good food, it would be nice if all ages could get smaller portions (and pay less). I usually can’t finish a whole restaurant meal, and sometimes I want to save room for dessert;-)

              2. My wife has been known to order off the kids’ menu on occasion, especially at these diners where even the children’s meals seem to have half the daily recommended calorie intake in one meal.

    3. What if they worded the same discount the other way around: Your meal is $X, plus a 15% surcharge because you didn’t pray in public.

      Discrimination on the basis of religion is illegal.

    4. We can state this a little differently.

      I can still shop here without discrimination and might be happy to while I conspicuously DO NOT pray am black. [I just don’t get that discount for being white.] As long as this is a privately owned business in compliance with licensing they have the right to do as they will.

        1. I highly doubt it, I suspect it’s just to show in a very obvious way how it IS unconstitutional discrimination.

          I think we can be a bit less harsh in response to any “let it go” comments. I admit when I first read the first half of Jerry’s post, my initial response was “eh, whatever”. But on reflection, yes it’s discrimination and illegal.

          (and hey, this might make a better example for RD’s recent formulation! e.g. Offering a discount for praying is bad, offering a discount for being white is worse. Or Offering a discount for praying is bad, requiring a surcharge for being a same-sex couple is worse. None of it is acceptable.) 😉

        1. Discrimination on the basis of race in restaurant pricing is illegal. Discrimination on the basis of religion in restaurant pricing is illegal.

          Surely you see the similarity?

    5. I agree (although I suspect we’re in the minority here). offering a discount at a private business is a far cry from imposing religion on captive audiences like children in public schools.

      If you don’t like a business’s practices, take your custom elsewhere.

      Anyone leaping to respond to this with emotional associations with civil rights battles in the 60s and irrational scenarios like “What if there are no other diners?”, please first explain your justification for using the force of government to impose your will on another person. All the diner owner is doing is offering a discount to a customer. No one else, including you, is involved in the interaction.

      As P.J. O’Rourke puts it, you’ve got to ask yourself “Would I kill my kindly, gray-haired mother for this?”

      1. “If you don’t like a business’s practices, take your custom elsewhere.”

        That’s not what the law says in this case. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 expressly forbids discrimination on religious grounds. It does not speak, nor should it, to the severity of said discrimination. The law isn’t conditional. The subjective assessment of what you or PJ O’Rourke consider to be serious discrimination has no bearing on the law or its application.

      2. The legal basis is (AFAIK) the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids public accommodations (such as restaurants) from discriminating against customers based on race, religion, color, sex, or national origin (and this list has probably been expanded).

        Also, the first section of the 14th Amendment has been broadly interpreted as preventing such discrimination. While hypothetically you might be able to have equal protection of law while everyone discriminates in the services they provide, in practice these two deprivations seem to go hand in hand: unlimited discrimination in public services offered by private businesses has the practical effect of depriving citizens of equal protection of the law.

        So, the justification for using force of government in this case is: the citizen consumer has a right to equal protection, and public accommodations discriminating against customers based on irrelevant factors such as religion violates that right.

      3. “Emotional associations with civil rights battles”? My tuchus! It’s explicitly forbidden by law. Do you understand that now?

        Nobody’s killing any grandmothers over this, but the law will come down on that restaurant, as it should.

        The “force of justification” is the Civil Rights Act? Do you now admit that the restaurant is violating the law, or do you continue to maintain that it is not? I’d appreciate an answer before you post anything more here, as I cannot abide statements that are so palpably false.

      4. Based on this argument, the diner could tack on a 15% surcharge to Muslims. Or give everyone except Muslims a 15% discount. Same difference. From what you said, we should all just shrug and move along. What do i care of those other people are discriminated against? The golf course charges Jews an extra $500 if they want to join. But if they turn it around and call it a discount for christians, no problem. The caterer will gladly provide food for your party, but since you are gay, the prices are doubled. No problem.

        Wrong. That isn’t the country i want to live in. And fortunately, our Constitution and our laws say that services provided to the public are provided to all on equal terms.

  6. I remember that monasteries in Belgium and probably in other European countries organised soup kitchens for people with cash problems. They first had to attend mass, and then they would be served a meal. I attended two masses per week for 6 years in a Catholic school (to get some lousy education–niente evolution, except Lamarck’s giraffe), and really, it wasn’t a big deal. It’s like people attending boring business meetings in companies to please their superiors and keep their jobs.

    1. That’s somewhat repulsive though, isn’t it? Feeding the hungry, but only if they will pretend to believe in your religion.

    2. Those sorts of operations might be legal in the US; explicitly religious nonprofit organizations don’t have to follow the same nondiscriminatory rules that for-profit businesses must follow. So to try and make an analogy with your monastery: if a church here said they were making an offer to get people to go to church, and that offer was food for those who went, then AIUI that’s legal.

      There are some gray areas where many churches try and operate like a for-profit business, but I don’t think the existence of a gray area makes this problem hard; it’s pretty easy to see that Mary’s Gourmet Diner billing you for praying/not praying is nothing like the local Baptist church’s Sunday ‘come one come all’ barbeque.

    3. This would (I’m pretty sure) also be legal in the US (and happens, for a fact).

      The religious orgs. are explicitly religious. They are providing charity. They can legally attach strings to that charity. (as eric and Grania said, I find this repulsive, but it’s legal.)

      They could probably get away with only providing charity to certain “protected groups” or excluding them. In particular, I’m sure they could only serve their co-religionists, if they so chose.

    4. Belgium doesn’t have the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment. Preferential discounts for a public display of piety are a black and white violation of Federal Law. Whether the discrimination rises to the level of harassment or is merely tantamount to sitting through a boring seminar to stay in good standing with your boss is immaterial to the law or its application.

    5. Reminds me of companies that hold management meetings and PIZZA. People go for the food, they could care less what management has to say.

      Watching people pray can be entertaining. The two most prominent looks on prayer’s faces:

      1) the sincerely ignorant look
      2) the embarrassed look, which, thankfully, is becoming more prominent

  7. For what it’s worth, in four years in Estonia I didn’t see any prayer any where, but it’s about 70% non-religious and even the religious people tend not to be very serious about it.

    On the other hand, my step-father in the US always prays in restaurants.

  8. It would not be legal if
    they charged blacks 15% more.
    Whites 15% less that others? No because it still means blacks are discriminated against.
    15% discount for the Religious über alles? No.

  9. Even in a country as nominally religious as Ireland; prayer – or any display of religiosity – is regarded as something that is private. I’ve never seen anyone voluntarily praying in a public restaurant; but I can safely say that if someone were to do that they would be regarded as extremely eccentric and old-fashioned at best; and more probably as somewhat unhinged.

    You don’t score points by publicly displaying religious fervor in Europe. Instead people regard you with a mixture of embarrassment, amusement and curiosity.

    1. Absolutely. In the UK people would consider someone praying in a restaurant as a religious weirdo.

      On most Saturday’s in my hometown of Newcastle they’ll be a couple of brave/foolhardy blokes attempting a spot of shouty preaching. They’re usually either ignored and given a very wide birth or they’ll be subject to a constant stream of abuse and ridicule, usually from groups of teenage kids.

      1. Come to the West-MidWest US. There can be much respect afforded to people who pray in public. Fortunately the act of prayer takes more courage than it use to, since more people acknowledge that it can be embarrassing.

    2. I’ve seen it several times in the MidWest and the South, but never in California.

      In parallelism to the loaded Dawkins tweet from yesterday [Is 434 comments a record for this site??], I’m going to say that while others praying quietly in a restaurant seems relatively innocuous (if slightly unseemly), others praying !*loudly*! in a restaurant is really annoying and intrusive! My grandfather did this a great deal, to my father’s eternal chagrin.

      Since going atheist, I’ve maintained warm contact with my liberal Christian friends who like to remind people that Jesus commends private prayer over public “go into your room and shut your door” (Matthew 6:5-6)

  10. I wonder if I would would get a discount if I said this this out loud, “oh God, don’t let me get food poisoning.”

  11. I’ve never seen anyone praying in a European restaurant- not Spain, not France, not Portugal, all of which have large Catholic populations. Maybe public prayer is more of a protestant affair. Or more specifically the particular class of Puritan Protestants who fled to America.

  12. I wonder how they’d deal with someone who prayed out loud, paid for their discounted meal, then announced at the end that they didn’t believe in god and therefore were talking to thin air.

    Do you think the restaurant would try and make them pay the extra?

    Would be a fun little experiment. I’m from England where this would never happen and we don’t get to antagonise discriminatory fundies.

  13. Public piety, partiality at the register, and overpriced tea (who charges $2.25 for one iced tea?).

    “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible … and such small portions.” — Woody Allen

    1. Where do you live that $2.25 is high for a drink? In the New York area, $3.50 or $4 is pretty ubiquitous for a soft drink (and many places don’t offer free refills). Maybe I need to get out of here more often and come to grips with reasonable prices?

  14. Pious Asshole Restaurant Owner™ can afford to give 15% discounts to airhead customers but expects customers to pay the salaries of his wait-staff with a 15% tip?

    No, nobody in Europe embarrasses themselves in public by praying in a restaurant. Haven’t even seen it in more religious countries like Italy and Greece.

  15. In 20 years of living in The Netherlands, I’ve never seen it. However, a friend of mine did some consulting at Baan, a producer of ERP software located in the Bible Belt of Holland. People said grace in the office cafeteria.

    1. It’s actually moderately common in the Dutch bible belt. I’ve seen it on numerous occasions, mostly in rural or small-town restaurants, but also in company canteens. (We’re talking here mainly about Veluwe, Betuwe, Overijssel etc, but also locations not far from Rotterdam). I’ve not seen it in cities or tourist locations in the Netherlands.

      I don’t recall seeing it in any other country in Europe (and I’ve visited most of them apart from the former Soviet Union).

    1. Matthew 6.5, revised:

      And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward, and it’s a 15% discount.

  16. ‘European readers weigh in: have you see this happen?’

    Never, in all the corners of Europe I’ve visited, nor in Asia or South America what I can remember.

    And I hope I will never see it – I would be truly shocked too.

    Restaurant etiquette would forbid it (in most of Europe I would think) because it wouldn’t be proper, it would be intrusive on other guests, et cetera. (Think playing music, brushing your teeth, et cetera for “intrusive”.)

    Besides that religion is considered private business, naturally.

  17. I’ve seen it once, very recently, in about 20 years in London. Having said that, it may be that I don’t remember earlier incidents, and my younger adulthood I frequented the devil’s establishments (pubs) much, much more often than restaurants (the pubs back then were much more about drinking than eating)

  18. Since I live in the Winston-Salem, NC area and have dined at Mary’s on several occasions, I think I can provide some “ground truth” to this situation. Mary’s is located in a once thriving downtown area that fell into disrepair and disrepute. Trade Street has been ‘revitalized’ and gentrified. The street hosts a number of artsy shops, at least one metaphysical shop, and there are at least 3 yoga studios within 4 blocks. The area is the location where more progressive rallies and events tend to be held.

    The patrons of Mary’s tend to be more of the ‘New Age’ panentheistic persuasion. My perception is that coming from this position, the people at Mary’s are genuinely trying to encourage goodness, the flow of positive energy, good karma, etc.

    In providing this, I’m not trying to defend their use of the discount. My only goal is to show that they aren’t pious jerks, they aren’t overtly (or even covertly) Christian, and they aren’t trying to impose anything on anyone.

    If it matters, I am an atheist (Dawkins Scale 6.9) and former fundamentalist.

    1. I didn’t characterize the proprieters as pious jerks, though their behavior still does revulse me. If they got rid of that behavior, I’d gladly patronize them if they had good Southern food.

      1. They have ended the practice and their food is quite good. If you’re ever in the area, Professor, lunch is on me.

    2. They might be able to squeeze through if they can demonstrate that they’ve given the discount to a variety of people who have shown gratitude for the food, regardless of religion etc… That might be like a sports venue moving “the fan who dances the best” down to a better seat.

      However, I doubt the current procedure will pass muster. It very clearly refers to a religious practice and the “random” element isn’t really random at all, it’s just staff discretion. If they want to do something like show gratitude for gratitude, they’re probably going to have to revamp their whole discounting process. Something like: there’s “tell us about your experience!” cards the customers can fill out and hand in. These go into a hopper, and once per day the restaurant draws one at random and sends that person a $5 gift card. THAT is a random reward for caring.

  19. I have never witnessed anyone praying in restaurants in Norway, and I’m sure anyone trying would get funny looks. I have seen muslims praying (silently) on the tube a few times (I could tell they were muslim ‘cause they were holding the Quran), but I have never seen christians praying in public. It might seem strange to US readers, but in Scandinavia non-belief is the norm, and the relatively few religious people left tend to keep their beliefs to themselves. This feature story from last winter is, I think, representative for the attitudes of most Norwegian christians, if you can stomach a Google translate: (The header reads: “Embarrassing to be a Christian; I hide the Bible when we’re having guests”)

  20. This might be over reach. Private corporations should have the freedom to set their own policies visavis what they charge their customers and how they give discounts. They are not government institutions and not supported by taxes. They are not violating a government law or the constitution. I think it is different then how they treat their employees and for instance the limits they are allowed to put on the type of health insurance they can buy, especially if that expense is a tax deductible item for the employer thus partially supported by the government. If I owned a business then I would never do this but I don’t know if it is right to limit the freedom of others to do it. I do agree that Muslims, Hindus and meditators like Sam Harris should have the same right and if the shop owner wants to reinforce the right of public prayer or meditation in his privately owned business, then he should have the right to quietly do this as long as the person doesn’t disrupt other clientele. If I am wrong then please enlighten me.

    1. “They are not violating a government law or the constitution.”

      Sir. You are ignorant of the law. It is a violation, and not a particularly subtle one.

    2. With what specific part of the FRFF’s interpretation of the Civil Rights Act do you disagree?

      1. Oops. I meant FFRF. I think my fingers got it confused with the MRFF (Military Religious Freedom Foundation).

    3. “This might be over reach.

      I am not sure how you mean that. Do you mean that you think the law should be changed, or do you mean that you think the restaurant in this case is not breaking the law and you think the OP is over reaching by trying to apply the law when it doesn’t quite fit?

      If the latter, as has been related several times above, the law is quite clear. They are breaking the law.

    4. Here you go Ian, with the relevant parts highlighted.

      Civil Rights act of 1964 (excerpt):

      SEC. 201. (a) All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.
      OOO(b) Each of the following establishments which serves the public is a place of public accommodation within the meaning of this title if its operations affect commerce, or if discrimination or segregation by it is supported by State action:
      OOO)(1) any inn, hotel, motel, or other establishment which provides lodging to transient guests, other than an establishment located within a building which contains not more than five rooms for rent or hire and which is actually occupied by the proprietor of such establishment as his residence;
      OOO)(2) any restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom, lunch counter, soda fountain, or other facility principally engaged in selling food for consumption on the premises, including, but not limited to, any such facility located on the premises of any retail establishment; or any gasoline station;
      OO)O(3) any motion picture house, theater, concert hall, sports arena, stadium or other place of exhibition or entertainment; and
      OOO)(4) any establishment (A)(i) which is physically located within the premises of any establishment otherwise covered by this subsection, or (ii) within the premises of which is physically located any such covered establishment, and (B) which holds itself out as serving patrons of such covered establishment.

    5. As has been pointed out elsewhere in this discussion, this is a private business operating in the public domain. There is no logical difference between this sort of discount and one for being white, or having segregated seating, refusing service based on race, gender, creed, etc.

      We also don’t have to go far back in history to see this precise form of discrimination taking place. If all the businesses in a region decided they only wish to serve whites, based on their view that they should be able to set their own private policies, then other races would needlessly suffer a severe restriction on their freedom and quality of life. There’s a well established precedent in much of our law that says your freedom (rights) end where they infringe upon someone else’s. This is why statements such as “my right to abuse children because the Bible says to whip them” are rightly dismissed.

      1. “This is why statements such as “my right to abuse children because the Bible says to whip them” are rightly dismissed.”

        But, of course, they’re not. Many states have religious exemptions for otherwise prohibited behavior, including corporeal punishment for children. A typical one is North Carolina, while not specifically mentioning whipping, includes;

        “Corporal punishment (spanking, slapping, or other physical discipline) is prohibited in all centers and family child care homes. Religious-sponsored programs which notify the Division of Child Development and Early Education that corporal punishment is part of their religious training are exempt from that part of the law.”

        Federal law, in the form of The Child Abuse and Prevention Treatment Act, affords states wide latitude in providing religious exemptions from secular laws that deal with children. This is particularly egregious in requirements for providing medical treatment.

        1. That document specifically refers to “spanking, slapping, or other physical punishment.” The ambiguity of what “other” punishment is concerns me, but I would hope that sanity would prevail in the case of whipping or other abuse that causes injury. Certainly, I think the line would be drawn well before stoning, but I’m frankly perplexed as to how something like this could be on the books at all, especially when it involves potentially harming children.

          I still stand by my initial statement though; one case of legislated favoritism towards religion doesn’t mean we should put more out there.

    6. you should read history, Ian. you can’t have a sign in the window that says “Irish not wanted” or have “whites only” even if you really really want to in your “private business.”

  21. It’s true that praying in public restaurants is extremely uncommon in Europe, indeed I don’t recall ever seeing it.

    But in Oxford and Cambridge colleges, grace is still said before formal dinners. Even in Churchill College, Cambridge where once upon a time there was a trememdous fight over whether the college should have a chapel or not, (which resulted in the temporary resignation of Frances Crick, and the chapel being relegated to a separate space not formally part of the college).

    Almost certainly the majority of those present at these dinners are non-believers since athiests are a clear majority among educated people in the UK, but it’s sort-of taken as a harmless anachronism, and generally those present just ignore it.

    1. Richard Dawkins apparently regularly says grace at New College, Oxford, on the basis that, like Freddie Ayer, he’s quite happy to utter *meaningless* statements.

    2. There are also more and less offensive ways to do grace – five words in Latin (which I imagine is the oxbridge standard – and probably wouldn’t qualify one for a discount), or the ever useful “good bread, good meat, good god, lets eat” never rankle as much as some of the public handholding and rambling and general showmanship that is often in evidence.

  22. I haven’t seen it in Canada but maybe I’m just not at the right restaurants at the right time. Even really religious folks I’ve known do not pray before a meal in public. I suppose it is because religion is seen as private in Canada.

    However, I sadly discovered that local governments still say a special municipal prayer to God <— the capital "G" god.

  23. My wife used to stop at a diner here in New Jersey. Several times she saw a group of men kneeling around the dining table, their foreheads pressed into the chair seats. She was suitably creeped out.

  24. Just last week I was waiting for an order “to go” at a local deli, and a mother and son were praying before eating their meal. I overheard the mother saying something like: “Dear Lord, please allow us to be seen by someone who will ask us why we are praying.” WTF? Her back was towards me, but had she turned around, she would have seen a scowl. My food arrived soon thereafter and I made a quick getaway.

  25. Praying over food was something that I hadn’t seen, either growing up in England or in California. For me it was one of those “welcome to Nashville” experiences – now we see it a lot, including the hospital cafeteria. I know praying for patients doesn’t work – that’s been tested – not sure if you can use prayer to improve the quality of cafeteria food, perhaps we could set up a study 🙂

    Interestingly I have eaten at Mary’s in WS – had two kids at college there. I saw this item a few days ago and forwarded it to my son who suggested we go in and talk loudly to his noodliness next time we are passing.

    Hadn’t realized a discount based on religion was illegal. Like others commentating above I am (pleasantly) surprised.

    1. Yes, I dearly want to go into their fine restauarant, light up a sage smudge stick and perform a Native American prayer chant while wafting sage smoke all over the place.

        1. I’ll join them;-)

          Speaking of Canadians, while there isn’t nearly as much of this prayer bs up here, I do remember the principal of the high school where I taught always saying “our thoughts and prayers are with so-and-so.” When my mother died the school secretary kept bugging me for details of “the arrangements.” She meant well, and the school does have a fund for sending flowers, etc., but I finally asked her to donate to an animal rescue organization in Penn. which my mother had supported. But she kept bugging me about arrangements. My family does NOT do funerals. We cremate the bodies and my parents insisted on being in unmarked graves, albeit in a churchyard, which seemed to be the easiest “arrangement.” My dad’s ashes were originally buried in the Foreign Service section of Rock Creek Park, in Washington, D.C. (my mother and we 4 kids drove down for the burial)but after a couple of years my mom just didn’t like this idea so had his ashes shipped up to Penn (where they had retired) and buried in the aforementioned cemetary. When she died, for a while dad was “missing in inaction” ( which he would have gotten a big chuckle out of). The church we thought he was buried behind had no record of him. Finally we realized he was in the neighboring churchyard and Mom was buried beside him ( no markers – I considered a small bronze plaque of a d*g, or a flower, but the cemetary insisted on a standardized headstone or nothing at all). Much earlier, when my former father-in-law died, my mother-in-law had an open casket in the living room of their farmhouse for about a week. This kind of freaked me out, not because I’m afraid of dead bodies, but because it seemed so overwrought. The family is not particularly religious, but my mother-out-law seems to love the socializing of funerals…

          1. My grandfather’s ashes went MIA in NZ. We all joke that my Nana flushed him down the toilet.

              1. Well she was dead when I went there (to take care of her estate) and I never visited NZ when she was alive so the TP was oriented correctly while I was there. 🙂

  26. Never seen it happen in the UK. Just trying to imagine it happening in France of Italy and finding it hard not to laugh at the sheer improbability.

    1. We just spent two weeks in France and Italy and four weeks in the UK, and frequented far too many restaurants for the health of my credit card. And I never noticed anyone praying. Even Mrs ii (who seems to think the product of her culinary skills needs some help from G*d to make it edible, and personally gives Big J his orders for the day every morning) dialled it back to the point of invisibility in public.

      But the best was – we were in Dubai airport and I was leading Mrs ii to the toilets when I looked round and she’d vanished. The only door nearby was the Women’s Prayer Room which had the ‘female’ logo alongside a mosque silhouette. So I waited and a few moments later Mrs ii reappeared looking somewhat amused. In the next half hour I saw at least five non-muslim women duck into the Womens Prayer Room, reappear giggling moments later and duck into the ‘real’ ladies’ room next door. Curiously enough no men made the same mistake. With the men’s, that is. I have no idea of the significance of that.

  27. I remember Archie Bunker saying grace:

    “Bless the meat,
    Damn the skin.
    Open the kisser
    And cram it in.”

    Would that count?

  28. Have never seen this nor can imagine this happening in Germany.

    I have a colleague, a member of Jehova’s Witnesses who says grace silently at lunch in the canteen. This is considered as strange and a bit awkward by everybody else.

  29. I’ve never seen people praying in public here in Germany (not counting outdoor mass or funerals and such). As such, I’d rank the notion with urinating in public: anyone caught doing it would be seen as shaming themselves…
    But then, I’ve actually seen people urinating in public when drunk…

    1. I would expect it to be less embarrassing if the two were done together. While urinating in public, you hear the person muttering, “Please God, help me finish before the police arrive…”

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