Should An Atheist Complain About A ‘Church Bulletin’ Discount?

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CHEVIOT, OH (WLWT) -- An Ohio restaurant owner is coming under fire after he offered a discount for anyone who brought in a church bulletin on Sundays.

"I'm right in the heart of Cheviot on Glenmore Avenue and I have about seven churches within a 1-mile radius," Justin Watson, the owner of Starter's Cafe, told NBC affiliate WLWT-TV. "So, I was thinking, what better way to drum up business than to extend an offer to the neighborhood?"

The offer was 10 percent off a meal on Sunday if you brought in a church bulletin. Watson said he didn't think it would cause a controversy.

> photo>WLWT-TV

Justin Watson, the owner of Starter's Cafe

Justin Watson, the owner of Starter's Cafe
> "This was the furthest thing from my mind when we came up with this idea," he said.

He got angry comments from people who said he was discriminating against the nonreligious.

Someone passed along a form letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation that told patrons to alert restaurant owners "to the illegality of the practice."

Jim Helton, the national field organizer for American Atheists, said legality is not always a clear-cut case. How the discounts are applied and other factors are key.

"A lot of the answers in these cases are: It depends. In this case, it was illegal because it was only offered to churches," Helton told WLWT-TV.

Helton said the discount is different from a senior citizen discount or a military discount because religion or lack of religion are considered protected classes.

There is no consensus on the issue.

"The law prohibits discrimination and, in this particular case, he's not denying service. He's offering a discount if someone does something specific, like bring in a church bulletin," said attorney Jason Phillabaum.

Phillabaum believes Watson was within his rights to offer the deal. Watson decided to change the offer to erase any doubt.

"In response, we just removed the 10 percent offer and sent a letter of apology and tried to clear the board. So now we're just offering, on Sunday, noon to 4 (p.m.), a 10 percent (discount) for everybody," Watson said.

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