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Diner's prayer discount: Diner, threatened by Atheists, dumps prayer discount

A North Carolina diner’s prayer discount is no more. The markdowns at Mary’s Gourmet Diner in Winston-Salem didn’t have a prayer after restaurant owners received a scathing complaint letter from the nonprofit group Freedom From Religion. The eatery had been in the practice of discounting meals by 15 percent if customers said a prayer over their meal when it arrived.

According to the Huffington Post on Aug. 8, the discount dish-out for those who say “grace” was going largely unnoticed “until a Christian music radio station in Orlando, Fla., uploaded a photo of a receipt with the discount to Facebook on July 30. Then it went viral. The restaurant said the discount was given to customers at the discretion of the wait staff and was open to people of all religious beliefs. But that left out discounts for the nonreligious.”

Enter Freedom of Religion staff attorney Elizabeth Cavell, who authored a letter to Mary’s owner Mary Haglund stating the discretionary discount violated the Civil Rights Act. The letter, read in its entirety here, says the “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 their meal.

The letter urges the restaurant to “discontinue this discriminatory discount. If you truly wish to reward gratitude in customers regardless of religion, you must do so in a way that does not single out customers who pray for favorable treatment.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation describes itself as the “nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics and skeptics) with over 20,000 members,” working to “educate the public on matters relating to nontheism, and to promote the constitutional principle of separation between church and state.”

In response, Haglund, who said the discount never was about religion but simply "an attitude of gratitude," dumped the discount, fearing legal action against her small diner. A handwritten sign in the window at Mary’s now says:

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 the community for any offense this discount has incurred.

While the letter didn’t actually threaten to bring suit against the diner, according to Annie Laurie Gaylor, the co-president and co-founder of the foundation, a lawsuit “would not have been off the table,” she said. “People who are atheists don’t pray,” Gaylor pointed out. “It’s illegal to charge an atheist more than a Christian.”

Comments on Mary’s Facebook page are largely in support of the restaurant.

It never ceases to amaze me how those who swear "there is no God" hate him so much. How can you hate someone that doesn't exist? I don't live near your restaurant, but I would patronize you often if I did. I also understand your need to back away from the generosity you offered, and why you would never offer this to someone who prayed to Satan or some false god. Blessings to you for all you do. You are in our prayers in Tennessee! – Ed Smith

First, Atheist does not have a religion, so how can a religion based discrimination apply here? Second, the word "pray" defines as "address a solemn request or expression of thanks to a deity or other object of worship." It is not specific to a particular religion just as people pointed out, it could be the Mother Nature, or it could be Buddha, etc. Third, atheists do pray too. A survey done by the Pew Research Center from the period of 2007-2012 shows that atheist and agnostics do pray too… With that being said, whether you pray or not it is a choice. In this case, it is a mere decision similar to whether you want to use a coupon for your food or not. – Aaron Adam Tate

Excuse me, you atheist busybodies, but here in the USA we have something called the First Amendment. In it, there is something called "freedom of religion." Notice it says OF religion and not FROM it. – Matthew T. Mason

Where do you fall on this issue? Sound off below.