These types of promotions are illegal under federal law. The Civil Rights Act states in relevant part, “All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation . . . without discrimination on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. §2000a(a). As a place of “public accommodation,” it is illegal for restaurants, grocery stores or other businesses to discriminate, or show favoritism, on the basis of religion. Church bulletin discounts are restrictive promotional practices, which favor religious customers and deny customers who do not attend church, and nonbelievers, the right to “full and equal” enjoyment of the restaurant, store or other business.
Church bulletin discounts may also be prohibited under your state’s civil rights law, or your city’s municipal code and ordinances. Often, the state and local laws contain similar, if not the same, language prohibiting discrimination at places of public accommodation on the basis of religion.
Any promotions should be available to all customers regardless of religious preference or practice on a non-discriminatory basis. No place of public accommodation can advertise– in broadcast (radio or television) or print advertisements (newspapers, church bulletins, etc)– any sort of discount to customers who present a church bulletin. Rather such promotions must be offered to the public at large, and not single out any one religious group. For example, instead of offering a “20% discount to customers with church bulletins on Sunday,” a restaurant could advertise, “20%off Sunday brunch.”
If you come across a business that is offering a church bulletin discount, you should approach the manager, owner or a supervisor to alert them to the illegality of the practice. You also have the right to ask for the same discount! If you need further assistance to stop this discrimination, please contact FFRF. It is helpful if you forward us a copy of the coupon or advertisement and provide the name and address of the discriminating business.
Written by Rebecca S. Markert, FFRF Staff Attorney