Member takes flak over church challenge – John Wolff

This is FFRF member John Wolff’s letter to the York [Pa.] Daily Record, which was published July 23 in the wake of his public complaint about a restaurant’s illegal church bulletin discount in Columbia, Pa.


I have little to disagree with in your editorial, “Atheist raises a shrimpy issue over church bulletin discount.” But you have misjudged my motivation. I have no animosity toward the Prudhommes [restaurant owners] and wish them luck if this publicity brings them more business. And this was never about a lousy 10 percent discount, and I am not attacking any particular religion, nor am I trying to spread my nonbelief.

I am adamant, however, in opposing the conventional wisdom that churchgoing makes you a better person. I am at least as good a person as any churchgoer. I am a much better person if you include the many religious child molesters, their enablers, embezzlers, hypocrites and even terrorists who, we are always astounded to discover, “came from a churchgoing family.”

For a restaurant to use religion to advance their business is tacky at best, and in my opinion and that of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, it is illegal. I am not a second-class citizen, potentially charged more because I do not attend church. If the Prudhommes want to increase traffic on Sundays, they should give everyone a discount without promoting church attendance. Restaurants have to follow regulations, all the way from food-handling to those affecting public accommodations and civil rights.

You are correct that this a shrimpy deal, just another irksome little thing that advances the agenda of the Religious Right and leads to laws favoring religion over nonreligion like taxpayer-funded vouchers for religious schools and exemptions from fair-hiring laws. Or legislators posturing to honor the bible. Or restrictions on the availability of contraceptives. Such laws are the serious business.

I felt an obligation to speak out because my fellow nonbelievers who hold jobs must pull their punches and may need to remain in the closet in order not to offend anyone. Evidently, the issue has hit a nerve locally to even suggest that churchgoing could be criticized. I admit being very surprised by the size of the flap this has caused. Reminds me that one of the first questions newcomers to the area are often asked is “What church do you go to?”

I do not regret bringing this complaint to the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission, and I have no intention of escalating this to a lawsuit and enabling lawyers, as it is reported the well-funded Religious Right is eager to do. But I am a bit saddened by the hate mail I’ve received both in the papers and by mail. One came with a bulletin from a local church, accompanied by a hand-written note calling me an a-hole and adorned with a swastika. Certainly proves my point that churchgoing does not make you a good person.

John Wolff writes that he was born a German Jew in 1932. “Bad timing! My mother always told the story that she was listening to one of Hitler’s first harangues while in labor. Catholics saved my life in Belgium by hiding me in boarding schools (at the price of conversion). Although my parents were never religious, I became a fervent Catholic between the ages of 10 and 16, so I understand a bit that religion/meditation can bring good feelings.

“The flap about the church bulletin discount is really the tiniest matter, but it has brought into evidence the bigotry that still lurks under the surface around here. Religion is such a large industry that no one dares attack it.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation