The customers who shared their ticket with the world also said that their waitress had told them, “Just so you know, we gave you a 15 percent discount for praying.” Not for “being grateful” or “enjoying your meal” or “saying nice things to the cook.” Of course, for all the restaurant owner knew, customers could be praying to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which should always be done before eating pasta in any form.
However, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, an atheist group, was not impressed with this discount. The foundation’s staff attorney sent the diner a letter pointing out that offering a discount to customers who visibly or audibly “pray” at some point during their meal is a violation of the federal Civil Rights Act.
A restaurant, after all, is a place of “public accommodation.” The federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires restaurants to be available for “full and equal enjoyment” of all customers.
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, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.
Everyone who walks in the door should be treated equally. You can offer a student or senior citizen discount, because age and educational status are not protected groups under the Civil Rights Act.
The diner, however, has left a paper trail of offering discounts to customers who practice a religion that includes public prayer, and excludes people who are non-religious or who simply prefer not to pray in public. “Any promotions must be available to all customers regardless of religious preference or practice on a non-discriminatory basis,” the letter pointed out.
In an e-mail to the FFRF, the diner’s owner (yes, she’s named Mary) responded by saying that she will end the discount.
We at Mary’s value the support of ALL our fellow Americans. 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. We are no longer issuing the 15% praying in public discount. It is illegal and we are being threatened by lawsuit. We apologize to our community for any offense this discount has incurred.
The sign indicates that the restaurant still doesn’t quite get it: the problem isn’t protecting people from public displays of religion, but giving preferential treatment and better prices to people who practice some religion, but not people who practice others, or who have no religion at all.
Here at Consumerist headquarters, we will get back to worshipping this burger that the diner recently posted on its Facebook page.