Atheist Scruples 2014: cheaper meals if you pray?

Not an out-of-the-box question here but an actual article. Should the owner of a restaurant give discounts to diners if the wait staff sees them pray publicly before their meals? I say no. I say that’s special treatment, discriminatory and completely inappropriate. The restaurant in question is Mary’s Gourmet Diner in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The pious (“pie”-us?) proof has been delivered unto the social media masses in the form of a picture of a receipt from the restaurant, showing a 15% discount applied for “Praying in Public.”

The tab belonged to Jordan Smith, who had traveled to Winston-Salem for a business trip and stopped for breakfast at Mary’s with two colleagues Wednesday morning.

She tells HLN the group “prayed over our meal and the waitress came over at the end of the meal and said, ‘Just so you know, we gave you a 15% discount for praying,’ which I’d never seen before.”

Impressed, Smith shared a photo of the receipt on her Facebook page.

The article has a picture of the receipt. The owners of the diner admit freely that they give everyone who prays out loud the same deal.

She’s also been surprised how the photo has spread online. “I just innocently posted it to my Facebook page and it’s been really fun to see where it’s gone from there.”

Innocently. Sure. Sure you weren’t bragging just a little bit? “I pray before meals and God worked through the owners of the diner to reward me for that. God is Great!” Maybe that wasn’t a conscious thought-process, but it might have been there. NPR is where I picked up the story. They quote from the diner’s Facebook page to get some opinions on this. I’ll do the same. From the owners themselves:

There’s a lot of craziness going on in regard to the 15% discount. I will not respond to all the posts. I will say that it is not a “policy”, it’s a gift we give at random to customers who take a moment before their meal. This could be prayer or just a moment to breathe & push the busyness of the world away. Who you talk to or meditate on etc. is your business. … It warms my heart to see people with an attitude of gratitude. Prayer, meditation or just breathing while being grateful opens the heart chakra. It’s good for everyone!!!!

I like Donna’s response below:

I’m sure the discount was well-intentioned. However, it is specifically referred to, both on the ticket and by the wait staff, as a discount for “praying in public,” which is a specifically religious activity. Your response is very gracious and dignified, and you appear to be a generous and caring soul. I’m sure you can find other ways to encourage your customers that would provide equitable service for everyone without rewarding overtly religious practices. “Peace, love, & happy eating!”

Stop giving special treatment to overtly religious people. Unless some other receipts turn up with the words “seen meditating” or “seen breathing deeply” with the same discount, we have to assume you only reward a religious practice you personally follow and “punish” secular people by make them pay full price. I see Rachel agrees with me:

No, thanks. I don’t need your bribery. Everyone breathes before a meal… this is pushing religion on people and punishing people who reject religion for fact. My money will never go to someone pushing religion in any way on others. People do not need religion to be happy, they do not need religion to be successful, they do not need religion to be emotionally sound. Enough is enough. Keep it at home.

Or at least keep it personal and low-key when you’re in public. Be courteous to other diners who might not want a show with their meal. Just bow, mumble, and eat. Other comments fire back with complaints about the criticism, reminding readers that there is freedom of religion in the States and people aren’t being forced to eat there.

That’s true, but then aren’t we looking at a something akin to segregation? In some ways it doesn’t seem too far removed from having a “whites only” drinking fountain. Special places for “people like us” and you have to go over there. You have to pay a different price because you don’t believe what we do. Personally, I wouldn’t want to support that kind of discrimination and abuse of power.

What do you think?

UPDATE Aug 7, 2014: The Friendly Atheist reports that the Freedom from Religion Foundation had a few words to say regarding this diner and their reward system. The cafe has since eliminated the 15% discount for prayers. A handwritten note on the door is what they offer instead:

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.

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7 Responses to Atheist Scruples 2014: cheaper meals if you pray?

  1. Laurance says:

    Hello, Minion…and yes, I agree that religious people are getting special treatment while the non-religious (as well as religious people who don’t make a show of public praying) have to pay a higher price.

    The Subway shop in our little town was giving discounts to people who could bring in the paper program from their Sunday Church Service. Same idea. Special treatment for religious people.

    I noticed, wrinkled my nose, but didn’t make a fuss. Maybe I should. I haven’t been to that Subway in a long, long time because they stopped offering spinach. I’d rather have spinach than iceberg lettuce. Nor do I know if they give a senior discount. The Subway at WalMart has spinach and gives me the old fart’s discount as well.

    That’s discrimination against young people, of course. It’s not their fault that they’re still young, while I am an old geezer closing in on my 73rd birthday.

    But if they should live so long, they will get senior discounts, too. I think that’s somewhat different from a religious discount.

    Hmmpf, maybe I should do something. First I have to go and see if our little local Subway is still giving those Church Program discounts. Maybe they’ve stopped.

    And then, to whom do I complain? The manager of the local shop? Or should I write to the headquarters of Subway?

    Our Freethinkers group is getting together this Thursday. I’ll bring the subject up.

  2. 1minionsopinion says:

    Let me know how that goes. I wonder how much autonomy individual Subway franchises usually have. Like, did they get permission from the top bosses to give deals to church attendees or did the operators of that particular Subway just do it on a whim and on the sly?

  3. Laurance says:

    Hello, Minion…you aren’t the only blogger to notice this. Hemant Mehta also weighed in on this incident. His blog post includes some links I haven’t had time to check out, but I’m going to do so now.

    Apparently the local Subway isn’t the only place to favor people who bring church bulletins in. And now I wonder if this is something the Freedom From Religion Foundation would be interested in.

    The URL to Hemant’s blog post is awfully long. I went to Tinylink and came up with this:

    http://tinylink.net/391fu

    Now that Facebook has heard about this, I’ll bet we hear a lot of buzz about it. I won’t be surprised if the news gets to Planet Atheism.

  4. Laurance says:

    Back again, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation is already aware of this practice. This is by no means the first time something like this has happened. And it’s illegal.

    http://ffrf.org/faq/state-church/item/14010-church-bulletin-discounts

  5. 1minionsopinion says:

    I figured it would be on their radar. Thanks for the extra links.

  6. Laurance says:

    Tempest in a teapot, MInion…I walked by the Subway this afternoon, and I see that the church bulletin discount notice is gone. I suspect the store has changed hands. The last time I was in there, which was a good long time ago, I saw that they’d remodeled and changed some things. Whoever owns it now probably took the notice down.

    So there’s no need for me to contact the Freedom From Religion Foundation or consult with the Nittany Freethinkers as to whether or not we should do something.

    I don’t mind. I’m dead tired from caregiving and I really don’t need more responsibilities and things to do.

  7. 1minionsopinion says:

    Maybe someone in your group could have offered to take it on had it been needed. I’m barely involved with my Freethinker group these days. The banned book club is pretty much all I’ve made time for for the last couple years, honestly.

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