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Diner Stops ‘Praying In Public’ Discount After Atheist Group Threatens Lawsuit

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File photo of a Bible. (credit: Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images)

File photo of a Bible. (credit: Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images)

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (CBS Charlotte) — A North Carolina diner has stopped giving discounts to customers who pray in public after an atheist organization threatened to sue.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter to Mary Haglund, owner of Mary’s Gourmet Diner, threatening legal action if the diner did not drop the 15 percent discount for praying because it violated the Civil Rights Act.

The “promotional practice favors religious customers, and denies customers who do not pray and nonbelievers the right to ‘full and equal’ enjoyment of Mary’s Gourmet Diner,” attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote in the letter.

Following the letter, Haglund posted a note on the diner door informing customers that the 15 percent discount will no longer be allowed.

“We at Mary’s value the support of all of our fellow Americans. While you may exercise your right of religious freedom at this restaurant by praying over your meal to any entity or non-entity, we must protect your freedom from religion in a public place,” the note read. “We are no longer issuing the 15% praying in public discount. It is illegal and we are being threatened by lawsuit. We apologize to our community for any offense this discount has incurred.”

Haglund told WGHP-TV last week that the discount was “not a religious thing” and didn’t know it was breaking the law.

“This is a thankful thing. It’s just an attitude of gratitude,” she told WGHP.

Haglund added: “We don’t tell the people they’re getting a discount. We’ve never promoted it. We just present the ticket.”

Despite being around for years, the discount made national headlines last week after a photo of the discounted receipt when viral on Facebook.

Jordan Smith shared the photo on an Orlando Christian radio station’s Facebook page and it quickly received thousands of likes.

Smith told HLN Television that she and three other people at her table “talked about how wonderful that is and what a cool thing it is that they do [that] as business owners.”

She said her group at the diner simply “prayed over our meal and the waitress came over at the end of the meal and said, ‘Just so you know, we gave you a 15 percent discount for praying.’”

Smith said she’d never seen or heard of such a “Praying in Public” discount before.

She noted that the thousands of shares and likes on Facebook were a surprise.

“I just honestly posted it to my Facebook page and it’s been really fun to see where it’s gone from there,” Smith told HLN Television.

Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the atheist group, said in a statement she’s glad the diner took action to drop the discount.

“Praise be to Mary! We’re very pleased that Mary’s Gourmet Diner has seen the light about the meaning of the Civil Rights Act, and responded with such alacrity,” Gaylor said.

She continued: “We have found that most relevant owners, who, after all, are in business to please all customers, are gracious and drop illegal discounts that selectively reward customer piety.”

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