NC Diner Drops Prayer Discount

Last week a North Carolina diner gained national headlines after a Christian radio station posted the above receipt which notes the discount granted to patrons who pray before their meals. Despite the owner’s claims that the discount was randomly granted even to those to simply meditate or have an “attitude of gratitude,” the discount has been dropped.

Elizabeth Cavell, staff attorney at the Freedom From Religion Foundation, began hearing complaints about the discount from state and national members. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is the largest national association of freethinkers, or people of no religious beliefs. She then wrote a letter to the diner’s owner, Mary Haglund, on Aug. 4, asking her to stop offering the discount. “As a place of ‘public accommodation,’ it is illegal for Mary’s Gourmet Diner to discriminate, or show favoritism, on the basis of religion,” the letter said. “Your restaurant’s restrictive promotional practice favors religious customers, and denies customers who do not pray and nonbelievers the right to ‘full and equal’ enjoyment of Mary’s Gourmet Diner.” On Thursday (Aug. 6), a handwritten board near the front door announced that the restaurant would no longer offer the prayer discount. “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,” the sign said.

The Anti-Defamation League weighs in:

Fed­eral pub­lic accom­mo­da­tion laws, which cover restau­rants and din­ers, pro­hibit unequal treat­ment of cus­tomers in the enjoy­ment of goods and ser­vices based on reli­gion, as well as on race, color, or nation ori­gin. The dis­count may have vio­lated the law because it effec­tively favored reli­gious cus­tomers over non-believers or other cus­tomers who — for what­ever rea­son — choose not to pray in public. The mar­ket­place brings together Amer­i­cans of all races, reli­gions and back­grounds. In addi­tion to likely being ille­gal, com­mer­cial dis­counts based on reli­gious prac­tices are divi­sive, anti­thet­i­cal to our plu­ral­is­tic soci­ety, and sim­ply an ill-advised busi­ness prac­tice. The diner did the right thing in dis­con­tin­u­ing the dis­count it was offering.

(Tipped by JMG reader Andi)

NOTE: Looking up the original news item for this post, I came across an email from a longtime JMG reader in North Carolina who says he is a regular patron of the diner. An excerpt:

“This whole thing has been blown out of proportion and it has to hurt Mary just a little. So it hurts me. She isn’t a bigot or a racist or a homophobe. She doesn’t care about what religion you worship or if you worship at all. She really doesn’t. I’m an atheist and I despise Christian hypocrisy. This incredibly kind, generous woman has been maligned. I got my discount handed to me by my favorite gay waiter today at her restaurant. I don’t know why they call it a diner it had well over 100 people enjoying delicious food with well over 100 people enjoying delicious food with a half hour wait all morning.”