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Church Bulletin Discount: Discrimination or Good Business?

For those interested in how religion and the law intersect, there is a new case to watch for in Lancaster County.

Evidently, a local restaurant, Prudhomme’s Lost Cajun Kitchen, in an effort to generate some extra business, offers a 10 percent discount to anyone who brings in a current “faith bulletin” on Sunday. Although churches traditionally publish bulletins each Sunday, the restaurant, presumably to avoid claims of religious discrimination, offers the discount upon receipt of what they call a “faith” bulletin, which would include bulletins from one’s local synagogue, mosque or other house of worship, as well as a church. It should be noted that one does not actually have to attend a house of worship to secure its bulletin, nor does the restaurant conduct any sort of inquiry into one’s religious beliefs. The discount is obtained upon production of the bulletin, much like a discount being obtained upon producing a coupon.

Despite the restaurant’s efforts to avoid allegations of discrimination, it did not seem to account for a local atheist for whom securing a faith bulletin is either impossible or grievously difficult. Accordingly, about a month ago, 80-year-old John Wolff, who has never patronized the restaurant regardless of the discount at issue (he only learned about the discount through anInternet search of the restaurant after hearing good things about its food), filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission on the basis of discrimination against his nonreligion. Additionally, the Freedom From ReligionFoundation, of which Wolff is a member, has issued letters and a telephone call encouraging the restaurant to discontinue is bulletin discount promotion.

In pursuit of his claims, Wolff will likely have to demonstrate how the discount is discriminatory and/or how it is different from discounts offered for children, senior citizens, ladies’ nights or the presentation of a coupon.

Although no legal decision has yet been reached – the matter is still pending before the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission – the restaurant has not wasted any time in promoting the issue even more than before, likely to the chagrin of Wolff. In addition to continuing to offer the Sunday 10 percent discount upon presenting a faith bulletin, the restaurant is will be selling T-shirts commemorating its “legal battle” (the restaurant’s term) with Wolff.

This matter is still developing and it will be interesting to see how it will continue to unfold.

Originally published on August 7, 2012 in “The Legal Intelligencer Blog” and can be found here.

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