Winston-Salem restaurant in prayer discount dispute prepared to fight back

Wesley Young/Journal

Wesley Young/Journal

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — It might not be too late to get a discount for saying a prayer at Mary’s Gourmet Diner, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. 

Co-owner Shama Blalock said Thursday that the restaurant could bring back the discounts, depending on whether her mother can be convinced that that the discounts might be legal after all.

Blalock’s mother, Mary Haglund, is the Mary in the restaurant’s name and is co-owner of the diner with Blalock.Winston-Salem restaurant gives 15 percent discount for praying in public, photo of receipt goes viral

The restaurant said Wednesday that it would end the prayer discounts, after a Wisconsin-based group called the Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter to Haglund saying that the discount was illegal.

The prayer discount went viral on the Internet last week when some customers posted their receipt on their Facebook pages. The receipt showed a 15 percent discount for “Praying in Public.”

Haglund received bundles of both praise and criticism for the discount, which the restaurant had been quietly giving for years on a more or less random basis.

The restaurant posted a notice in its window on Wednesday apologizing to anyone who may have been offended by the offering of prayer discounts, and stating that the discounts would no longer be given because they were illegal and could lead to a lawsuit.

Blalock said that “people have picked up our cause for us” since that announcement was posted, and that she is being told “that I am not breaking the law” to offer the discount.

“So, when we can convince my mother that we are not breaking the law, that we are exercising our freedoms, our own as a privately owned business, it s going to be a gift that’s given back to me, to give to my customers,” Blalock said.

Blalock didn’t say who has offered the legal interpretation that might support the giving of discounts, but said she has been contacted by a number of people offering help. Haglund could not be reached Thursday evening to be asked whether those offers might sway her decision.

A quick search of the Internet shows various outcomes in cases involving a private business and religious expression.

For instance, a restaurant in Pennsylvania was taken before the state’s human rights commission for giving discounts to people who brought along a church bulletin on Sundays, but the commission ruled that it could continue to do so as long as it gave discounts to people who brought pamphlets relating in any way to faith, including atheism.

The co-founder and co-president of the Freedom from Faith Foundation, Annie Laurie Gaylor, said that her group has stopped a festival from offering discounts to people who had attended Mass, and added that she was concerned about another festival planning to do the same thing.

Mary’s Gourmet Diner did not have a policy of giving discounts for prayer, but left it up to the servers. Haglund said the discount was not meant to promote any particular faith and could be earned by anyone simply taking time out to express what Haglund called “an attitude of gratitude.”


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