Customers back Winston-Salem restaurant in prayer discount dispute

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The Steinfeld family from Washington state found themselves staying in Winston-Salem overnight, and when they learned that the restaurant everyone’s talking about because of a prayer discount was here, they just had to go.

They weren’t alone. According to the Winston-Salem Journal, more than one diner at Mary’s Gourmet Diner on Thursday said they were there to support the restaurant after its namesake owner, Mary Haglund, found herself in the middle of an Internet-driven controversy over the discounts.

Some came to eat and made sure to offer a prayer. Some said they were not particularly religious but wanted to show their support for the “attitude of gratitude” that Haglund said was behind the discounts – now discontinued.

“We don’t hold hands but we pray over our food,” said Rebecca Steinfeld, who said she is a Christian. “We are religious people and have been taught to pray.”

The Steinfelds heard about the controversy on commentator Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News. So they went to Mary’s with Jonathan, their son.

“(O’Reilly) was mentioning Mary’s and said she was doing a good thing,” Matthew Steinfeld said. “We just happened to be coming through so we decided to eat the food.”

Haglund’s restaurant has been offering the discounts more or less randomly for years, but it went viral on the Internet when some out-of-town customers posted their receipt on their Facebook pages last week. The receipt showed them getting a 15 percent discount for “Praying in Public.”

Haglund found herself interviewed by national broadcasters and was besieged with comments – pro and con – on the Mary’s Gourmet Diner Facebook page. Comment-box warriors waged battles over prayer and religion, while Haglund fended off nasty phone calls and tried to explain that her intent had never been to push any particular religion, but to offer a “gift” to people who paused to pray – or just meditate or simply reflect – before digging into their meals.

Then the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation stepped in, sending Haglund a letter and issuing a news release, both making the case that it was illegal for Haglund to offer discounts for prayer.

The restaurant on Wednesday posted a notice on its door apologizing for any offense the discounts may have caused, and said they would no longer be offered.

Ben Boger, the restaurant’s marketing director, said he saw lots of people praying Thursday but that no one asked for the discount.

“We have had mixed emotions,” Boger said. “This gift has been taken away from us.” He went on to say that the restaurant hadn’t ever tried to call attention to the discount.

“It was about people taking a moment to separate themselves from the madness of the world,” Boger said.

Mary Johnson and Terra Snider shared a table Thursday and shared a prayer when their meal came. The women belong to the same Bible study group and decided to eat at Mary’s for the first time out of support for Haglund.

“We are sad that her choice to give this fine gift to people was taken away,” Johnson said. “There was a certain excitement when we decided to do this.”

Brad Budris, seated at a table with his wife Harda, said he is “not necessarily religious” but came to the restaurant for the first time Thursday to show support. The couple didn’t pray before their meal, he said.

“We saw it in the news and said we are going there,” he said, adding that he also heard that Mary’s was a good restaurant.

“She is the proprietor, and she should be able to do what she wants,” Budris said. “And if people aren’t happy, they don’t have to come.”

Budris and some other diners said they were actually going to add an extra 15 percent to their bills over and above the tip as a way of showing support for the restaurant.

Customer Ted Reeves said he heard about the flap over the prayer discount but didn’t realize it was at the very restaurant in which he was eating Thursday. He had no opinion on the discount.

“I don’t know about that but the food is awesome,” he said.


  • GC

    I think it is ridiculous for someone to stop this by saying that it is treating non religious people differently, she never said that anyone has to pray to God, or any other specific being, she also gave the discount to people who bowed their head in meditation or reflection, therefore she was giving the discount for a specific practice, and people need to stop condemning her for religious discrimination.

  • Jay

    I guess the idiots haven’t seen this new article yet. They will and it will be entertaining. I agree with you GC.

    • GC

      I’m glad someone agrees, I thought it was a pretty simple thing, if people actually read the previous articles, but so many people comment without even reading the stories. And you’re right, the firestorm of comments to come will be worth a laugh or two.

  • Bill Elliott

    Many things in life are not equal for everyone, scholarships, discounts because of age and many social programs. If I don’t think that I’m getting treated fairly at a place, I don’t go there. If they had a business that offered discounts for Islam,Buddhist or worshipping Satan, I would just stay out of the business.

  • jliles1205

    The body of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (as quoted in Hobby Lobby et. al)

    42 U.S. Code § 2000bb–1 – Free exercise of religion protected
    Current through Pub. L. 113-126. (See Public Laws for the current Congress.)
    (a) In general
    Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except as provided in subsection (b) of this section.
    (b) Exception
    Government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person—
    (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
    (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
    (c) Judicial relief
    A person whose religious exercise has been burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against a government. Standing to assert a claim or defense under this section shall be governed by the general rules of standing under article III of the Constitution.

    Note especially the term ‘least restrictive’.

    In other words, the Freedom From Religion bullies would be handed their butts on a platter by a Federal judge. But fighting racketeers in court is an expensive ordeal.

    • johnnya2

      Actually, forcing an ATHEIST to pray is not the least restrictive way to offer a discount. In fact it is one of the MOST restrictive ways. In fact, put it in simple terms, the restaurant comes out and says we charge X for blacks and X-15% for whites, do you think that would hold up for ONE second?

      • No Hope For Change

        IN FACT,only problem is the restaurant isn’t forcing any one to do any thing. This is like a sports team offering a discounted ticket to wear their merchandise or chant their slogan at the game. Those that participate are not being “forced” to receive the discount. Those people that stand in line at stores on Black Friday to get the bargains shouldn’t this practice be banned since people are being “forced” to stand in long lines, even camp out, in order to receive a discount? All those stores that offer online coupons etc are they forcing me to print them off so that I receive the discount? I’m looking for consistency here. Using you logic, the elderly, police/fireman, military and kids should not receive discounts at restaurants either. It is discriminatory? You lose me even more on the white and black race baiting argument. Lets say a group of black church members receive a discount at a restaurant not because of their religious affiliation but because the increased business should they not receive the discount that the private business owner decides to give them because a small group of white atheists did not get the same offer. You would be hypocritical if you think so.The restaurant never stated you had to pray to a God, be Christian prayer or any thing like that. You could pretend to pray, mumble nonsense, pray to the giant flying spaghetti monster you would still get the discount. How is that any different from “forcing” a person to dress up as a Superhero in order to get a discounted ticket at a baseball game?

      • GC

        They are NOT forcing any atheists to pray in order to get a discount. The discount was given for people “meditating” as well, and on top of that they never forced anyone to pray or meditate, they simply gave a discount to some of those who they saw doing so.

  • Joni Hayes

    I believe if you stand by what God wants, HE will honor you regardless what non believers threaten you with. Actually, the Bible says God will honor those that aren’t ashamed of HIM. I am praying Gods Will be done.

  • dg (@dynamicabs)

    I’ve been given discounts because of my name, my age, where i worked, and just because i asked. whos the whiner making an issue of this? Agendadize (yes thats a new word, figure it out) elsewhere jackA..

  • JT

    Sitll hard to believe that in the 21st century, people believe in mythology. Guess that comment about clinging to God and guns was dead on. But there really is no way to underestimate conservatives–take what makes sense and do the opposite.

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