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

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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.”


  • Willbear Arms

    She’s a private business owner. f you don’t like her policies eat somewhere else. I find quite hypocritical that the Left isn’t screaming about Winston’s local government catering to Sodomites.

  • Honor Them

    Proverbs 11:24 “Some people give much but get back even more. Others don’t give what they should and end up poor.”

  • FaithC

    These people need to get over it. It is a privately owned business, the owner can do as she pleases as long as she does not break any law. If she wants to give a discount for praying, meditating or whatever it is right to do so.

  • Capernicus

    Did I really read someone complained about a certain race getting one whole month of celebration? ? Out of 12 months, we appreciate the one out of the 12 that are yours!

  • Brad

    Lu is very cunning, and has many followers
    they should get used to his company

    HE is the light and the way!

  • Mason-SalesmanExtriordinare

    I agree with most comments.. People do need to get over it…Mrs. Haglund should not be criticized for what she wants to give discounts for. I think it is great that we bless and thank God for our food. Is it discrimination when a senior citizen gets a discount and a 28 year old does not? Keep up the good work Mary’s Gourmet Diner! Ignore all the flak! They are just mad they didn’t come up with it first!

    • NCMale

      They’re just a bunch of narcissistic hypocrites who think their right to speak out is different that others personal choices. Wonder what they would say if the lady surcharged them for praying in public??? Not a single thing….

  • Kassie Miller

    This is a privately own business and it shouldn’t matter what they give discounts for. At Chick-fil-A some days you get a discount for dressing up as a cow. What if I don’t like cows? That’s discrimination. And just as it should be for Mary’s restaurant, IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT, YOU DON’T HAVE TO GO THERE. She’s not advertising it and there’s nothing wrong with it. She’s not adding tax to people who don’t pray shes just giving discounts to the ones who do. Which legally, she’s allowed to do.

    • NCMale

      I’m sure your absence wont hurt them. As a matter of fact I’m certain that the complaining by your type will HELP their business. I know I would patronize their restaurant whether I actually liked their food or not just based on principle.

  • NCMale

    Screw them…………..what right do these zealots have to say anything about when someone privately prays to themselves, whether in public or not??? If they aren’t forcing their beliefs on anyone then how is it hurting anyone?? I’d love to be next to once of these idiots when they light up somewhere in public so I can call them on their public display of smoking and how it’s hurting me, and then proceed to shove that cigarette right down their throat.

    • Parrish

      You’re missing the point. No one is objecting to people saying grace over their meals — that’s their right, obviously. The problem is that the restaurant, as a place of public accommodation, is giving a discount to people who pray over their meals, showing favoritism for religion over non-religion. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids this. By way of comparison, how would you feel about a restaurant that give a discount to any customer who was white, or who was male? Or perhaps to suppose it the other way, a restaurant that gave a fifteen percent surcharge on any customer was wasn’t white? You may think they should have the right to do so (regardless of how obnoxious the concept may be), but the law says that they don’t.

      • No Hope For Change

        I think you might be a little naive. The Freedom From Religion Foundation motivation is not equal rights of of religious vs. non-religion. Atheists groups are trying to eradicate any displays of religion from public places and now they are going after private businesses. As in the namesake “Freedom From Religion”. Listen to the atheist types on here the attitude is the same its always disdain and intolerance. I think your interpretation of the laws are wrong.

        Using your logic we should be screaming discrimination when public safety professionals (police/fire/EMS) receive discounts at restaurants, military service members receive discounts, elderly receive discounts, children eat for free how dare they. All are what you would describe as favoritism favoring one particular group/class of people. I guarantee many especially left leaning get upset when one of those people in line in front of them get a discount one that they cannot receive, but it doesn’t make the act of offering that person a discount illegal. I’m not sure if you realize this but groups of people get discounts at many places all the time including church groups The discount is normally offered because of the increase in business the large group provide. Shouldn’t we then ban any type of discount for large sizes because they might include religious people who then might offend someone with a prayer offering, of course not. What about groups of people that tend to be from the same race lets say a predominantly black church members do we ban the discount?

        I hope the restaurant gets with Alliance Defending Freedom and these two groups can throw around there money and battle it out.The scare tactic of threatening lawsuit is not going to work.

      • Parrish S. Knight

        Police/Fire/EMS/military/age are not protected classes under the CRA of 1964, so your comparison is not valid. There actually is quite a bit of case law on the CRA of 1964, and it upholds what I’m saying. Probably the biggest challenge was in 1965, when a motel owner didn’t want to rent any rooms to black people and was taken to court over it, race being another protected class under the 1964 CRA. He lost. (Badly. SCOTUS ruled 9-0 against him.) If Mary’s decides to fight, they are likely to lose, although they admittedly might not “lose completely”, if you follow me; in a similar case in Pennsylvania, a human rights commission ruled that a restaurant offerring a similar discount could continue the practice so long as the discount was somehow made available to atheists as well. Of course, if that had been the case here, the FFRF would have never gotten involved in the first place because it wouldn’t have been a CRA violation to begin with.

        I should also point out, by the way, that the FFRF did not threaten a lawsuit. It did not even hint that it was considering legal action. It merely observed that the restaurant was breaking the law and asked it to stop — did you even read their letter?

  • Mark

    The man owns the business and can do what he wants. You don’t like go somewhere else. I absolutely hate people.

    • Parrish S. Knight

      I’m sorry, but it’s simply not true that the restaurant owner “can do what he [sic] wants”. There are all kinds of rules you have to follow, such as food safety laws. The 1964 CRA is one of the laws that a restaurant, as a place of public accommodation, is required to obey, which is probably why the restaurant owner has announced that she is discontinuing this practice.

      Now, if you think that a restaurant *should* be allowed to show favoritism on the basis of religion, then that’s obviously a different matter. I suggest you contact your legislators and tell them you want the CRA altered or abolished.

  • Gerald Truesdale

    When people pray over their food it is a personal thing between their god!! .The Problem is that other people wants to take it personal getting offended and want to make a big deal about it. In the Bible it states that Jesus and God is a persons personal savour and that’s only between that person, jesus,and God. If I am at any restaurant, at home, in church, or anywhere in public praying over my food it is a personal thing weather or not if I get a discount for praying over my food!!. It’s my food, I payed for it , and if the Manager wants to give me a discount for praying over my food, then let them!!. To all the None- Believers, Atheist, and anyone that gets offended on your Death Bed before you take your last breath you Will call on the name of Jesus and God because all your life or half of your life you where told that there was no Jesus or God. But Everyone is afraid to die and go to the other side to see what’s it like. In any Business a owner has the right to promote anything that they want to!! It’s good for business to promote prayer over your meal, and a discount is even better. It’s good manners, good for the children, in all it’s all good!!. So if anyone is sitting at a table of any restaurant praying over your food and someone gets offended by that then tell that person to mind their business, and they can take their business somewhere else to eat.

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