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
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.