Last week a North Carolina diner’s reported four-year-old 15% customer discount for “praying in public” before meals gained widespread attention after a patron’s receipt showing the rebate was posted on Facebook. This attention was also the discount’s demise. After multiple news reports appeared, commentators and organizations began speculating that the practice was illegal, and the diner ended the discount.
Federal public accommodation laws, which cover restaurants and diners, prohibit unequal treatment of customers in the enjoyment of goods and services based on religion, as well as on race, color, or nation origin. The discount may have violated the law because it effectively favored religious customers over non-believers or other customers who - for whatever reason - choose not to pray in public.
The marketplace brings together Americans of all races, religions and backgrounds. In addition to likely being illegal, commercial discounts based on religious practices are divisive, antithetical to our pluralistic society, and simply an ill-advised business practice. The diner did the right thing in discontinuing the discount it was offering.