Big business has a big mouth these days, but what comes out isn't always pleasant. Chick-fil-A hates gays. Hobby Lobby has its panties in a knot over contraception. Taco Bell fires managers for hiring too many Mexicans. It doesn't seem to end. Then we read about the firestorm surrounding Mary's Gourmet Diner, a restaurant in Winston-Salem, NC.
Unlike those big corporations, Mary's doesn't hate! Mary's simply wants to reward its favorite customers with a 15% discount. What could be wrong with that?
Well, it turns out that Mary's favorite customers are the ones who pray before eating. The discount wasn't advertised, but if the staff happened to catch you giving thanks for your daily dose of saturated fats, your bill would likely include a surprise 15% "Praying in Public" discount.
This practice went on for years, and probably would still be going on unnoticed had it not caught the attention of someone at a Florida Christian radio station. They posted a picture of a prayer-discounted check on the station's Facebook page, asking followers "How cool is that?"
Not so cool, as it turns out. The picture went viral and attracted wrath not just from people old enough to remember what a Woolworths lunch counter is but also from some Christians who found it distasteful and un-Jesus-y to, as they saw it, essentially pay people to pray. ("What next," wrote one commenter, "dragging people at gun point into churches?")
After the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation sent Mary's a terse letter -- declaring that the discount violates the federal Civil Rights Act -- Mary's pulled the plug on the discount, leaving Mary Haglund "heartbroken." She insists her intent was positive and never meant to offend. How did a little bit of good-old Southern Christian sweetness become illegal?
Poor Mary. Fifty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, she and half the country are still trying to figure out that pesky Title II -- the part that makes it illegal for public accommodations to discriminate based on race, color, religion or national origin.
And stories like this keep coming around: As recently as 2012, a Pennsylvania-based restaurant caught flack for giving a discount to anyone who brought in a church bulletin on Sundays. But here's where there's hope! It turns out that that Pennsylvania restaurant managed to avoid anyone's calling out the National Guard by simply offering its discount to anyone with a bulletin from any church -- even an atheist one! See how fair that is?
Though we're having a hard time picturing any bulletin-wielding atheists taking advantage of such awesome equality, we're nevertheless wondering if Mary's can't do something similar: Prove that Mary's loves everybody, not only people who publicly pray.
So it should be simple. Just embrace diversity! How can Mary's do it? What do YOU think?