There was a bit of controversy here in Winston-Salem recently. It made international news. Here’s how the BBC reported it in August:
For the past four years, Mary’s Gourmet Restaurant in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, had been surprising customers with a 15% discount if they prayed or meditated before meals.
“It could be anything – just taking a moment to push away the world,” says Mary Haglund, the owner. “I never asked anyone who they were praying to – that would be silly. I just recognised it as an act of gratitude.”
However, it wasn’t until customer Jordan Smith shared her receipt with a Christian radio station on 30 July that the diner and its discount went viral.
“There was no signage anywhere that promoted the prayer discount. We just ordered our food and prayed over it once it arrived,” says Smith. “It wasn’t until the end when they brought the bill over and it said 15% discount for praying in public.”
To Smith’s surprise, the post received thousands of likes and shares on Facebook.
“It was fun to watch and see how quickly it got popular,” Smith says. “As a Christian, it was exciting to see so many people talk about prayer.”
Haglund was bombarded with media attention from across the United States.
“I was pretty overwhelmed,” she says. “I’m 61 years old so this internet technology blows my mind. It really makes you take a pause because there’s a lot of people paying attention.”
However, unbeknownst to her the discount may have been a violation of the Civil Rights Act, which was passed in the 1960s to protect US citizens from racial and religious discrimination.
“As a place of public accommodation, the Civil Rights Act requires the diner to offer goods and services, which we interpret to include discounts, without regard to religion, race, and national origin,” says Elizabeth Cavell, a staff attorney at the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Cavell sent a letter to the diner urging it to withdraw the discount.
“Most people can understand how discriminatory discounts are really unfair to the people that are not included in the preferred group,” says Ms Cavell.
Now, I’m a liberal and an atheist, and, without more knowledge, I would normally side with those who say that Mary’s Gourmet Diner discriminates against those who choose not to pray before meals.
But I’ve eaten at Mary’s now and then. And I’ve met Mary. And she’s not one of these evangelical religious nuts and she doesn’t discriminate on the basis of religion. (Plus, she serves breakfast all hours of the day, which makes her and her establishment awesome, not that that bears on the controversy)
So when I heard the Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show was coming to town to do a segment on the controversy, I was a little concerned that they would go for the easy target (the “discriminating Christian”) and not get the story right (unlike other media).
But to the Daily Show’s credit, they listened to both sides, and actually got the story right. Mary isn’t an evil person, and the people who are complaining are actually the dicks here.
Here’s the Daily Show segment that aired last night: