Atheist Sues Over Restaurant’s Discount for Churchgoers

by Simy Wolf on August 6, 2012 · 0 comments

in Constitutional Law,Litigation,

In what might have some scratching their heads and wondering about the ever-increasing litigiousness of American society and what others will identify with, an atheist recently brought suit against Prudhomme’s Lost Cajun Kitchen, a restaurant located in Lancaster County, Pa.  Why you might ask? Because of their Sunday special which offers a 10 percent discount off the purchase of dinners for anyone who brings in a current church bulletin.  Who is the plaintiff? John Wolff (no relation), an atheist and member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Wolff initiated the lawsuit with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.  In the lawsuit, he contends that the restaurant should not be giving discounts based on religion.  Wolff claims that he does not bear the restaurant any “ill will”. The Commission is awaiting the answer of the restaurant-it has thirty days to file its answer.

The restaurant is not backing down. The owner contends that the deal is designed to increase business at the restaurant.  Many in the community, including church leaders, e.g. pastors and ministers, are regular customers of the restaurant.  The restaurant’s cuisine draws its inspiration from Louisiana’s rich culinary history in seafood and includes such dishes as alligator platters and crawfish.

Since the restaurant gets a lot of foot traffic from regular churchgoers, the owner figured that the best way to increase sales of Sunday dinners was to offer these churchgoers an incentive to come in-namely a discount.

Over the past several months, however, the owner received several calls and letters from the Freedom from Religion Foundation demanding that the restaurant cease this promotional activity.  The Foundation is based in Madison, Wisconsin.  Its main focus is enforcing the separation of church and state in the U.S.  Recently, for example, it sued the Pennsylvania legislature for naming 2012 the “Year of the Bible”.

The restaurant owner, Sharon Prudhomme, admits that she was busy with other, more pressing matters and consequently ignored the Foundation’s requests.  Ironically, the owner does not attend church herself-she is just too busy at the restaurant.  Prudhomme argued that the promotion was not discriminatory because even non-churchgoers could pick up bulletins from any church and submit them to the restaurant to receive the discount.

Prudhomme claims that she does not bear any prejudice to anyone.  She also pointedly asked how the promotion differs from senior citizen discounts or free meals being offered to children under a certain age.

Wolff responded that eventually, everyone is entitled to a senior citizen discount (if they live long enough) but not everyone attends church.  For the record, Wolff himself is eighty years young.  Wolff claims that his interest in the issue stems from his concern for “social justice and tolerance.”

Wolff was a devout Catholic until fifteen years ago when he became an atheist.

Wolff places his lawsuit against the restaurant in the bigger picture, warning that he is worried about what is happening to the U.S.  He hopes that his lawsuit encourages meaningful reflection and conversation on the issue.

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