Ohio Restaurant Ends Church Discount After Atheists Complain About Discrimination

Ohio Restaurant Ends Church Discount After Atheists Complain About Discrimination

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Sign up By , Christian Post Reporter | Jul 20, 2018 12:50 PM (Photo: Facebook)Starters Cafe in Cheviot, Ohio.

A newly opened Ohio restaurant that offered a Sunday discount to churchgoers for several weeks was forced to end the offer after owners were warned by an atheist organization that the discount could be discriminatory under the law.

Justin Watson, who opened the  on Glenmore Avenue in Cheviot in June, said he was just trying to attract business from at least seven churches within a 1-mile radius of his restaurant when he decided to offer the discount, .

“What we did was make an offer on social media to give a 10 percent discount to anyone that gave a church bulletin to us on Sunday for brunch,” Watson told KCBY.

For several weeks, the special pricing was welcomed by the community and no concern was raised about the restaurant discriminating.

“Nobody has said a word to me in any way, shape or form. So as far as you know, thinking that that was any type of discriminatory act or anything offensive to anybody seemed completely absurd to me,” Watson explained.

He  that the discount wasn‘t even based on one religion.

“Any congregation, any religion, any area, whatever â€” as long as you brought me a church bulletin, I would give you 10 percent off your meal for the day. It seemed pretty simple and here we are,” he said.

Someone reportedly complained about the special on , saying he was discriminating against non-religious people.

Then a letter from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation followed.

“I realized there may actually be legal repercussions for this. So in the end, I ultimately (ended up) recanting the offer and also issuing an apology to the lady,” Watson said.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the FFRF, told KCBY that she was “shocked” at the lack of understanding people have about civil rights laws.

“We are shocked that there is such little understanding of the Civil Rights Act and that there could be this kind of confusion, naiveté that you can reward some customers for their religious beliefs and penalize others,” she said, noting that religion and freedom from religion is a protected class like race, gender, age and nationality.

Jim Helton with American Atheists told 10TV he agrees that the discount to churches was discriminatory. “A lot of the answers in these cases is it depends. In this case, it was illegal because it was only offering to churches,” Helton argued.

Attorney Jason Phillabaum said, however, that he didn‘t see a problem with the discount.

“The law prohibits discrimination. And in this case, he‘s not denying service, he‘s offering a discount if someone does something specific like bring in a church bulletin,” he told 10TV.

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, an attorney with the firm  who deals in civil rights cases, said a discrimination charge stemming from the restaurant‘s discount is debatable.

“Because these people weren‘t denied access to the restaurant. They were still permitted to come inside, eat the food and receive service. It‘s essentially that they didn‘t receive the 10-percent discount,” Fields noted.

She further noted that anyone who really wanted a discount would simply have to visit any of the area churches and get a bulletin.

“The pamphlet was essentially acting as a coupon. The person didn‘t have to act as if they subscribed to the faith of the church or the message that was relayed during the service that day,” Fields said. “Is it discrimination to make a person step into a church to grab what essentially acts as a coupon? I can see courts coming out on either side of that issue.”

Watson says his restaurant is now offering the discount to everyone on Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.

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