Winston-Salem diner owner earns both praise and flak for giving ‘praying in public’ discount

Winston-Salem restaurant gives 15 percent discount for praying in public, photo of receipt goes viral

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Mary Haglund is ready for life to get back to normal, but the story of how some of her restaurant customers got a 15 percent discount for praying before a meal doesn’t show signs of cooling off, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. 

In fact, a group called the Freedom from Religion Foundation in Wisconsin stirred the pot some more Tuesday by releasing a letter accusing Haglund of violating the law by denying “customers who do not pray and nonbelievers the right to ‘full and equal’ enjoyment of Mary’s Gourmet Diner.”

It all started when Christian recording artist Dan Bremnes and a record label promoter had a meal with a local radio manager at Haglund’s diner last Wednesday and paused to say a prayer before eating. The server gave them a 15 percent discount for “Praying in Public,” according to the receipt.

“I put it on my Facebook artist page and almost overnight it got 1,000 likes,” Bremnes said in a telephone interview. “Then a radio station in Orlando put it up and it got 10,000 likes. Then CNN called – Fox, Today …”

Haglund, the owner of Mary’s Gourmet Diner on Trade Street, said she is amazed at how the whole thing took off. She said that for years she has allowed her staff to give discounts to people who pause before their meal, whether to say a prayer or simply reflect in silence.

The discount is not a policy, she said, but a random gift.

“Everyone who has ever received it has been very grateful,” she said. “We never promoted it or told anyone about it.”

Plenty of people know now. While most of the reaction has been positive, Haglund said, she’s also gotten criticism online and some hateful phone calls filled with “cuss words and meanness,” she said.

Haglund got her first hint that something was up when she looked on her restaurant’s Facebook page and saw a message from someone she didn’t recognize asking if the discount was for real.

“That was the first time I knew it was on the Internet,” Haglund said. “Then a few days later all the craziness started. All of a sudden it was just everywhere.”

Haglund has been interviewed by the Today show and on HLN. She turned down a live talk show appearance on Fox.

“I’ve done a million phone interviews on radio stations,” she said.

A check of the Mary’s Gourmet Diner Facebook page on Tuesday afternoon showed more than 650 responses to Haglund’s Aug. 1 entry in which she explains the prayer discount.

Comments in favor included this one: “Bravo to you! Nothing wrong with a little prayer thanking God for the wonderful food you are about to eat!” and this: “I just prayed for your business!!!”

Some objected to the discount. One person said “this is not a discount. This is not a ‘random gift.’ This is a tax that you impose on people who don’t pray to your God.”

And another said the discount is “pushing religion on people.”

And there was no shortage of religious debates and arguments put forward by various folks, along with more than a few insults traded.

“I want to be clear that my local people have done nothing but support me,” Haglund said. “They know me and have been in my restaurant. For people on the Internet who don’t know me, I have made very clear exactly what this is. People are just jumping to this conclusion that it is a Christian thing. It is not tied to Christianity. It could be something spiritual between you and your idea of what God is, or it could be you in a moment being grateful to the universe.”

Haglund said she’s been interviewed by Christian radio stations and found that the interviewers were pleasant and didn’t try to pin her down to any particular belief. And she said she’s gotten support from local atheists, although “on the Internet, it has been kind of a bloodbath.”

Haglund said her own beliefs are not tied to any particular faith but that she is “a very spiritual person.”

“I do say a prayer of thanks for my food,” she said. “We have an obscene amount of food in this country.”

Bremnes said that when he got the discount he just thought it was a simple and amusing thing.

“Anything like this gets blown out of proportion,” he said. “It is something that probably should not have been such a big deal.”

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