WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A restaurant in North Carolina has discontinued issuing random discounts for patrons who pray over their meals after a prominent atheist organization threatened to file a lawsuit over the matter.
Mary’s Gourmet Diner has been randomly issuing customers a 15 percent discount for “praying in public,” that is, praying over one’s meal, for the past four years.
“It’s a gift to us to watch them appreciate our food,” owner Mary Haglund told local television station WGHP, noting that the prayers do not have to be Christian. “We don’t tell the people they’re getting a discount. We’ve never promoted it. We just present the ticket.”
When a photograph of a receipt that included the “praying in public” discount recently was posted online, Mary’s Gourmet Diner was flooded with both positive and negative feedback.
“You are such a blessing and please continue to stand up for whats right,” one supporter named Jenny posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page. “God is going to give you favor and bless you through this storm. You are a role model for so many of us who love the Lord.”
“As an atheist if I don’t get a 15% discount, my waitress doesn’t get a 15% tip!” a critic named Ernest wrote. “I thought according to your mythology Jesus was against public prayer, calling those who did hypocrites.”
After learning of the matter, the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to Haglund, demanding that she discontinue the practice.
“Your restaurant’s restrictive promotional practice favors religious customers, and denies customers who do not pray and nonbelievers the right to ‘full and equal’ enjoyment of Mary’s Gourmet Diner,” FFRF attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote. “We urge you to discontinue this discriminatory discount.”
On Wednesday, the Winston-Salem Journal reported that the restaurant had posted a handwritten notice that it had discontinued the practice.
“We at Mary’s value the support of all of 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,” the notice read. “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.”
“Praise be to Mary!” commented FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor in a press release about the decision. “We’re very pleased that Mary’s Gourmet Diner has seen the light about the meaning of the Civil Rights Act, and responded with such alacrity. We have found that most restaurant owners, who, after all, are in business to please all customers, are gracious and drop illegal discounts that selectively reward customer piety.”
But others expressed disappointment.
“Please don’t let haters change your way of doing business,” stated one supporter named Kathy. “Lots of places give discounts to older people, veterans, active duty military and others. It is your business. If people don’t like it, they are free (because we live in America) to eat elsewhere.”