North Carolina diner drops religious discount

August 7, 2014 • 1:00 pm

Well, things often move fast when the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) complains about First Amendment violations. Just yesterday I wrote about how Mary’s Gourmet Diner in Winston-Salem, North Carolina was giving customers a 15% food discount for praying aloud in their restaurant. I also posted a letter that FFRF attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote to the diner telling them that they were violating the Civil Rights Act by discriminating among customers on the basis of religion.  In the end, it took Mary Haglund, the owner, just one day to “see the light.” I quote from a Freedom from Religion Foundation bulletin:

Mary’s Gourmet Diner agrees with the Freedom From Religion Foundation that all of its customers should be treated equally instead of some being rewarded for praying in the restaurant in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote an Aug. 4 letter of complaint after FFRF, a national state-church watchdog, learned that the diner had long been offering a 15 percent discount for “praying in public.”

Co-owner Mary Haglund emailed Cavell yesterday (Aug. 6): “I am notifying you & the FFRF that as of today we are no longer offering the 15% discount for Praying in Public.”

A news story in the Greenboro News & Record included a photo of a sign in the restaurant window: “We at Mary’s value the support of all our fellow Americans. While you may exercise your right of religious freedom at this restaurant by praying over your meal to any entity or non-entity, we must protect your freedom from religion in a public place. We are no longer issuing the 15% praying in public discount. It is illegal and we are being threatened by lawsuit. We apologize to our community for any offense this discount has incurred.”

Here’s the photo from the News & Record

Bruce Chapman | Winston-Salem Journal

I have to say that that’s a remarkably enlightened letter, which isn’t obstreperous but does seem to accept the notion that freedom of religion also means freedom from religion. The FFRF bulletin continues:

Cavell’s letter noted that according to the federal Civil Rights Act, as a place of public accommodation, “Mary’s Gourmet Diner may not lawfully offer a discount only to customers who pray,” and added, “Any promotions must be available to all customers regardless of religious preference or practice on a non-discriminatory basis.”

“Praise be to Mary!” commented FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We’re very pleased that Mary’s Gourmet Diner has seen the light about the meaning of the Civil Rights Act, and responded with such alacrity.”

Gaylor added, “We have found that most restaurant owners, who, after all, are in business to please all customers, are gracious and drop illegal discounts that selectively reward customer piety.”

Annie Laurie is always courteous, and quick to praise those who “see the light,” but she’ll never give in when it comes to principle.

Here are two items from the Winston-Salem newspaper report on the issue. The first is a bit ironic, for it shows that a religious customer helped bring the practice to an end:

The discount made national news after some customers – Dan Bremnes, a Christian recording artist, and Jordan Smith, a promoter at Capital Music Group – posted their receipt on their Facebook pages after they passed through Winston-Salem and got a 15 percent discount at Mary’s for “Praying in Public.”

And, of course, “seeing the light” really means “seeing a lawsuit”:

Haglund told WGHP/Fox 8, the newsgathering partner of the Journal, that she dropped the discount out of fear of a lawsuit from the Wisconsin group.

It’s a pity that some Christians (not Mary) don’t “see the light” in the sense we’d like: realizing that they’re unfairly promoting their religion by offering such discounts, which violates the Civil Rights Act (and the Constitution).  So thank Ceiling Cat for the FFRF, which starts by using the carrot, but will take up the stick if necessary to protect our civil liberties.

But of course Lebanon, Missouri hasn’t yet seen the light.  If the Lebanon School Board thinks that they’ll win by stonewalling—by refusing to give up the right to foment Christianity on public school children—they’re making a serious mistake. Dan, Annie Laurie, and their coterie of crack attorneys don’t give up so easily.


36 thoughts on “North Carolina diner drops religious discount

  1. We should savor positive outcomes like this as they don’t happen often. I applaud the proprietor for quickly taking the proper action when so many would probably have chosen to be obstinate in her position. Mary Haglund is an example of the way business owners should conduct themselves and if I’m ever in the Winston-Salem area, I know where I’ll be having lunch.

  2. I’ll gladly to pray in their restaurant for a discount, however my religion demands all praying be done in the nude.

    1. I have often found myself shouting out to god when in the nude, usually telling him I’m on my way to meet him ;).

  3. Entity or Non Entity… You’d need to be very humble to pray to a non entity and I’m sure that wouldn’t appeal to most religious types.

  4. I see people asking the blessing in restaurants. No problem with that. The problem is with the restaurant encouraging them to do so.

  5. I’ve always wondered why the public prayer types seem to be ignoring the instruction against it found in Matthew: “But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private.”

  6. I think they got it wrong though. It’s not clear that the praying discount is an issue unless it has to be to a particular god and can be interpreted as a discriminatory business practice which is a consumer protection issue and not a matter of religious rights. They probably agreed to all that since (1) they haven’t got money to waste in court and (2) they may have realized that they put off a lot of potential customers.

    1. Those are interesting points. I’m not a lawyer and cannot comment on the legality of prayer discounts, although it does seem a stretch to call it discrimination. Restaurants are known to offer discounts for seniors, kids, students, women (ladies’ nights), military, police officers, etc, etc.

      I would remark that this diner, assuming its clientele is typical for that region, might do well financially by allowing the lawsuit to go forward. Chick Fil-A did very well, posting a 9.3% increase in profits, the year after it had a controversy over social values.

      I’m not sure if the owners made some type of calculation or just decided to do the right thing. Either way, the story is interesting.

  7. My I’m a curmudgeon, but I thought the note started out well but was a bit of a backhanded apology by the end – something about following “freedom from religion” with the passive “…we are being threatened by lawsuit” made me think they really wanted to write, “we would do this but we can’t because of the non religious”

    1. I totally agree. They wrote, “we must protect your freedom FROM religion in a public place.” This is a common right wing canard and a misunderstanding of the law. They are trying to make it sound like it is illegal to do anything religious in public. The letter says nothing about discrimination, which is the real problem. I give them no credit for that letter. They know they will lose in court so they did what they had to do, and that letter really says, “we’re not happy about it, but THE LAW says NO RELIGION IN PUBLIC, so we have no choice.” Blame Obama and the Democrats is not stated, but implied.

      1. I concur, they make most of the right noises but the phrasing gives away that it is being done under sufferance.

      2. Yes, that’s exactly what I thought as well.

        As far as I can see, the discount itself had nothing to do with “freedom from religion” or “freedom or religion”, but rather with discrimination towards non-religious people.

    2. It’s one of the less ungraceful “not-pologies” I’ve seen recently, but since that’s pretty ungraceful company at the best of times, that’s not saying a lot.
      They leave the door open to all sorts.

      While you may exercise your right of religious freedom at this restaurant by praying over your meal to any entity or non-entity,

      So not only the “Sky clad” Druids and Wiccans who stick their, uh, oars in up-thread, but a good pastafarian could indulge in some thorough-going revivalist preaching there, complete with a transsubstantiated act of religious …
      Actually, it’s not cannibalism for us, is it?

      1. Of course not. When you mutter some Latin over a noodly meatball, it is the essence of the monster, not actually the monster. This will be the first of the 95 theses of reformed Pastafarianism.

  8. Rats. I was hoping to get a 15% discount on my order of pasta by offering up a few words of advice to—who else?—His Noodliness, the Flying Spaghetti Monster!

    1. If they had tried to pull this trick here, their place would be filled with students making up prayers as they go, and muslims (max five times a day).

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