FFRF had a substantive victory last week, when the owner of a North Carolina diner that offered a 15% “praying in public” discount to diners dropped the discriminatory offer.
News stories went viral, prompting many complaints about the discount to FFRF. Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell sent Mary Haglund a letter explaining the meaning of the Civil Rights Act and noting, “Mary’s Gourmet Diner may not lawfully offer a discount only to customers who pray. Any promotions must be available to all customers regardless of religious preference or practice on a non-discriminatory basis.”
Since the owner announced she was dropping the promotion last week, the Christian Right noise machine went into full gear. Several online news stories are irresponsibly claiming without documentation that there were “threats” of violence, and are trying to smear FFRF and atheists.
Haglund had defended the discount saying she approves of people being “thankful . . . It’s just an attitude of gratitude.” So please let her know how grateful you are that she is honoring the Civil Rights Act! The Civil Rights Act, which is enjoying its 50th anniversary this year, requires “the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation . . . without discrimination on the grounds of race, color, religion, or national origin.” Without the Civil Rights Act, a black person could be denied the right to buy groceries or a house. An ill atheist could be turned away by a pharmacist. The Civil Rights Act does not allow a restaurant to offer believers a 15% discount at the expense of nonbelievers and is an integral part of America’s guaranteed equality under the law.
Mainstream media is also getting into the act, such as this column by Fayette Observer writer Myron Pitts, “What’s wrong with prayer,” which tries to frame this as “atheists just don’t like to see people pray.” FFRF’s complaint isn’t about diners praying; it’s about a category of diners receiving a financial reward from the restaurant for their religious beliefs, which is a violation of the Civil Rights Act. By the way, you might like to politely email Myron Pitts, after reading his column, to respond at .
Many blog posts, online comments, etc. have pointed to other discounts at restaurants and other places of public accommodation, as proof that restaurant owners can discriminate between customers in any way they like. Popular examples of such discounts include senior citizen discounts, veterans/military discounts, 'kids eat free' deals, and 'ladies' nights' promotions. If these discounts are OK, why isn't a discount given to religious customers?
FFRF’s Liz Cavell explains why: It’s simple. These discounts do not violate Title II of the Civil Rights Act because they do not distinguish between customers on the basis of religion, race, color, or national origin. (Although in the case of ladies' nights, discounts may violate certain states' civil rights statutes, if those statutes include sex or gender as a protected class. The federal Civil Rights Act does not.) Title II of the Civil Rights Act clearly explains what types of establishments it regulates, and what is prohibited.
While they enjoy freedom to run their business as they see fit, private restaurant owners are no stranger to government regulations — they must comply with a myriad of regulations of everything from food storage and cleanliness to employee safety and liquor licensing.
Please go to Mary’s Gourmet Diner Facebook page and post a grateful message, identifying yourself as an atheist or nonbeliever. Thank her for honoring the Civil Rights Act and for stopping a discriminatory promotion that rewards believers as opposed to nonbelievers. It is important that this message truly be friendly, grateful and openly “thankful” (no lectures!) — so that the Christian Right cannot continue to baselessly smear atheists as “threatening” the restaurant.
Using social network is preferred. If you do not use Facebook, the restaurant owner includes her email address at the restaurant’s website. If you email a message, please sign your name and address so your message is not perceived as anonymous. Use a clear subject heading, such as “'Praise Mary' for dropping illegal prayer promotion” or “Thank you for obeying the law and honoring all diners,” etc.
Mary Haglund's email:
sample talking points
(You can cut and paste or vary the language to put it in your own words.)
Dear Ms. Haglund,
Thank you so much for doing the right thing and dropping the “praying in public” promotion, which discriminates against me and the one in five U.S. adults who is nonreligious. Atheists and nonbelievers also feel gratitude. As a minority, we are at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to social acceptance and are often unfairly stereotyped and stigmatized. So I’m thankful for your decision to honor the Civil Rights Act and to treat all customers, regardless of their religion or lack of religion, the same. When I’m next in your area, I will plan to drop by and give you some business!