Church Bulletin Discount Halted (April 1998)

Although it took nearly five months (sigh), the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s complaint about a local grocer’s violation of the Civil Rights Act by offering a church-bulletin discount has been remedied.

The Wisconsin State Journal’s “Snoop” column last October reported that grocer Ken Kopp of Madison, Wisconsin, had been running a coupon for about a decade in his Catholic church bulletin, offering those who attend Mass a weekly free gallon of milk. No other shoppers were privy to free milk. When “Snoop” reporter Patricia Simms asked how Kopp knew whether the coupon-holder actually went to Mass, he replied: “Well, if they didn’t, then they’re lying, and they’re going to burn in hell and we get to watch.”

Freethought Today editor Annie Laurie Gaylor, who had regularly shopped at the store, promptly wrote the grocer a letter informing him that discriminating among patrons on the basis of creed is a violation of the Civil Rights Act. The letter added: “Your message is certainly coming out loud and clear: only Catholic customers are truly valued.”

Gaylor received a reply from Ken Kopp’s attorney suggesting that she was free to stop at her neighborhood Catholic Church any Sunday to pick up a church bulletin in order to obtain her weekly free milk (on implicit pain of hellfire, of course).

Representing the Foundation, attorney Jeffrey Kassel in November cited a plethora of pertinent case law proving that such favoritism is strictly illegal under state and local ordinances. The opposing attorney then tried to argue that legislation based on the Civil Rights Act protects only believers, not unbelievers, from discrimination.

The Foundation’s attorney in December asked: “Does your client believe that it would be permissible for a hardware store to offer a discount only to Jews or Muslims? Or that a pharmacy could offer sale prices only to nonCatholics? Yet that is exactly what Ken Kopp’s Fine Foods has done, by offering its free-milk promotion only to those who attend Catholic Church.” Kassel pointed out the legal consequences of continuing the discriminatory pitch, including revocation of Kopp’s liquor license. After two months of virtual silence, the Foundation received a short but sweet letter in March advising that Ken Kopp “has discontinued the coupon ad.”

To see what it takes these days to enforce the Civil Rights Act, see Saga Of A Civil Rights Complaint to read the correspondence between the attorneys.

Freedom From Religion Foundation