Discount Discrimination

In typical Fox News Fashion, Todd Starnes thinks discrimination is okay if it is religious.

Steven Rose runs a pizzeria in Searcy, Arkansas. and offered to provide a 10% discount to customers if they brought in evidence that they went to a Church by bringing in a Church Bulletin. 

Needless to say this is unacceptable and the Freedom From Religion Foundation is threatening to take up legal action based on the Civil Rights act of 1964 where discrimination via religion is considered illegal. The law requires places of public accommodation to not discriminate by race, colour, religion or natural origin.

Steven on the other hand thinks there is nothing nefarious about the discount.

“It was a straight-up marketing tool to give a discount to people I love and care about – and have them come in and have lunch with me,” he said. “I thought it was a sweet idea. I didn’t say you had to go to church to get it. Go get a bulletin from your neighbor and come in and have a pizza.”

I don’t think Todd understands what discrimination is. Let us use some examples.

1. A discount if you provide a Harvard Leaflet. Anyone can get one after all. It’s just that inner city kids are less likely to be on Harvard’s campus to get one.

2. A discount if you provide an American Passport. It doesn’t have to be yours. But guess what? Americans are more likely to have one.

3. A discount if you provided a leaflet from a Mosque

Something tells me a lot of Americans would be irritated by the Mosque one.

Or how about a direct piece of discrimination? If a Christian wears a cross they get a 10% extra bill. You can take the cross off can’t you. There is no part of the Bible that says you have to wear it. Or what if we make a hijab discount? Wear a hijab and 10% off!

I am sure a lot of Christians would be angry about that Mr. Starnes. The only reason you support this clear piece of discrimination against non-Christians is that you can get the 10% discount without felling uncomfortable and because it doesn’t discriminatee against your faith.

The trouble started a few weeks ago when someone posted a Facebook photo of the sign promoting the discount.

“It was from a guy whose Facebook name is Bong Hits for Jesus,” Steven told me. “It said, ‘good luck with the discrimination lawsuit.’”

Steven said he didn’t consider the post to be a credible threat — seeing how the Facebook user’s name is “Bong Hits for Jesus.”

I disagree Mr. Starnes. You see? “Bong Hits for Jesus” shows a better grasp of the laws of the USA than you do. Which is kind of sad. You are (allegedly) a journalist. A journalist’s value is in his veracity  and integrity. As of now? Mr. Bong Hits for Jesus is beating you at it.

Two weeks later, he received the letter from the Wisconsin-based atheist group. They said that if he did not stop offering a church discount, they would “take appropriate steps.”

“I’m just selling pizzas,” Steven told me. “I love my Lord and you see it expressed all over my building – but I’m just selling pizzas.”

And that’s fine. You can put up a 300 foot cross for all we care. What the issue is, is that non-Christians are paying more than Christians for pizza at your establishment.

And he’s not kidding. The local television station reports that customers are allowed to write Bible verses on the walls. And in the center is a message from the owners “God is the center of our lives, so our scripture wall is the center of Bailey’s Pizza.”

That’s fine. No one is threatening to quote me on your walls. No one is going to write Dawkins or Spinoza or Huxley on your walls. Stephen Fry and Hitchens shall not tarnish your establishment. However, either everyone gets the discount (which makes it a sale if temporary or a price slash if permanent) or no one gets it. Not just people who believe in your particular god.

“To me, if making a pepperoni pizza furthers the Kingdom – well I’m excited about that,” he said.
But just because Steven is a Christian business owner doesn’t mean he has a problem with non-believers.

Except he has explicitly stated that the purpose of this is to force non-believers in his god to pay a tax or to read his local church’s propaganda. I mean if we charged GLBT, Women and Black people more than Straight Men who are Caucasian we would not be having this discussion. We would call it discrimination and move on.

“They’re coming at us and saying we’re discriminating,” he said. “I don’t hate anybody.”

May I introduce you to something called institutionalised discrimination. You may not discriminate but you have created a system that penalises non-believers.

The FFRF has a history of targeting and bullying Christian business owners. Earlier this month, a North Carolina diner dropped a discount for customers who prayed before their meal.

I don’t think Tod Starnes understands what the “damn law” is. Why the hell does Fox claim to be a News Network while hiring people who clearly don’t understand basic laws. If I prayed to fucking Kali before my meal would I get the discount? Nope. Then I would sue and we would be at this same damn spot. It’s just that Hindus see this and go “going to eat somewhere where I am not discriminated against by bigots”.

“We are no longer issuing the 15% praying in public discount,” read a sign posted at the Mary’s Gourmet Diner. “It is illegal and we are being threatened by lawsuit. We apologize to our community for any offense this discount has incurred.”

That’s the thing Todd doesn’t get. It is illegal. It doesn’t mean “go on! Let us break the law!” it means “it is illegal and you shouldn’t do it”.

Why must atheist groups like FFRF be so ill-tempered?

Because you keep breaking the law. It’s why the police are so ill tempered when you speed.

So is it really unconstitutional for restaurants to provide religious-themed discounts? Not at all, says Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for Liberty Institute.

“In fact, if what FFRF is saying were true, restaurants and other businesses would be precluded from giving veterans and military members discounts because that would technically be discriminating based on veteran status,” Sasser tells me. “Is that what FFRF wants? Give me a break!”

I am sorry? Are you trying to compare being Christian in a nation where being Christian is lauded and applauded to being a Military Veteran?

Veteran Discounts are seen as a form of thanks to people who have served. And is seen as a way of applauding and feting people who have done a civil service. There are places which offer discounts to police officers, hospitals and fire fighters because they are seen to do an important civil service.

Christianity is a faith. You do civil service not because you are a Christian but because you are a good person. One is discrimination, one’s feting a civil servant who does something you approve of. That’s not what the FRFF wants, what the FRFF wants is a fair treatment across the board for all religions. Not your pet one.

The folks at Bailey’s Pizza are still not sure why the Wisconsin atheists are targeting their restaurant.  

“They may have something against my pizza,” he said.

Or maybe they’re upset because Bailey’s Pizza won’t deliver to Wisconsin. Who knows?

Seriously? If Todd Starnes is playing dumb then he deserves a bloody Oscar.

Whatever the reason, Steven is still contemplating what to do next. He fears a legal battle would be costly – and he’s quick to point out — he’s no Papa John’s.

“It’s just me and my wife running this place,” he said. “I’ve got window units at my house. We’re not rich. We’re just trying to be our own bosses and be an American success story.”

Then don’t discriminate. It’s really that simple.

Steven tells me it’s really sad that the FFRF is spending their money attack his restaurant.

“The 75 cents that somebody saves when they bring in a church bulletin – is that really what they need to be spending their money on?” he asked. “How about spending that money helping the homeless?”

I repeat. Because it is illegal.

For now – the church discount will remain at Bailey’s Pizza.

“As for me and my house, we’ll serve the Lord,” he told me.  

Render Unto Caesar. The funny thing is? If I started up a curry house that charged 10% more for Christians the FRFF would probably be suing me too. As would the ACLU.

And he will also keep serving their 32 varieties of pies – from Frito chili to baked potato pizza. “We pride ourselves in crazy pies,” he said. “But I’m old school. I eat the pepperoni – that’s all I need.”

You really can’t go wrong with a large pepperoni. Just be sure to hold the anchovies – and the atheists.

Dear Todd.


And Dear Fox. You can get the news back after your name after you start actually reporting on some rather than trying to spin a cut and shut civil rights case as discrimination against Christians. Because what you are doing is portraying Christians as  bigots who can’t read and have no idea about the law.


  1. Trebuchet says

    Pepperoni Pizza is explicitly forbidden by the Bible. Meat and dairy in the same meal, and pork at that!

  2. A Hermit says

    Sorry, I can’t get get too worked up about this one If they wanted to offer discounts to basketball teams I wouldn’t care either…

  3. Rich Woods says

    The local television station reports that customers are allowed to write Bible verses on the walls.

    Where did I leave my Magic Marker? Ah, here it is.

    “Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” — Psalm 137:9

    I wonder if that would put any families off their meal?

  4. AsqJames says

    The difference between discounts based on religion (or race, gender, etc) and discounts based on veteran’s status (or being a police officer, firefighter, etc, or, for A Hermit’s benefit, a basketball player) is that the former is against the law, while the latter isn’t.

    How hard is it to understand that?

    You can disagree with that law. You can campaign to have it changed, and if enough people agree with you that may happen.

  5. A Hermit says

    I’m not sure this amounts to a discrimination case. There’s no refusal of service. It’s a discount offered to members of an organization the owner supports.

    Technically you may be right, I just can’t work up any actual outrage over it.

  6. mistertwo says

    I’ll have to say that until I saw this example, I really didn’t have a problem with the church bulletin discounts. I think in most cases it’s simply a way for restaurants to get more people in the door on Sundays, and they think of it no differently than if they offered a discount to people who brought ticket stubs from a sporting event that happened to be in town on a particular weekend. They aren’t intending to favor anyone, just to increase their business.

    This guy, though, is clearly using it to favor Christians in his establishment — his comments make that clear. Same thing for the praying discount.

    But while motive is important, everything has to be applied equally. The law can’t look at things on a case-by-case basis based on motive, it simply has to ban the practice altogether.

    Nevertheless, this still seems a trivial thing to me. Even without the Christian discount in that restaurant, it has to be a really uncomfortable place to be. I wouldn’t have even liked it when I was still a Christian!

    For restaurants, it would also be a trivial thing to just open it up: Instead of having a discount for taking in a church bulletin, simply have a discount for taking in anything that shows you’ve been somewhere else earlier in the day, so that ticket stubs from sporting events or museums garner the discount, as well. It serves the same purpose for the restaurant owner who is simply trying to increase business.

  7. smrnda says

    If we’re looking at discrimination, if a person offered a discount to white people, given that everybody will still get served, is that still okay?

    There are good reasons why certain categories are subject to anti-discrimination laws in some areas and others are not. This is why those categories are spelled out in the law.

  8. hm says

    As Avi put it, would the pizza parlour owner give that same discount to someone who isn’t christian and bringing a bulletin from their temple/mosque/gurdwara? If not, then use it is an issue.

  9. AsqJames says

    @A Hermit:

    Technically you may be right, I just can’t work up any actual outrage over it.

    Oh absolutely!


    For restaurants, it would also be a trivial thing to just open it up: Instead of having a discount for taking in a church bulletin, simply have a discount for taking in anything that shows you’ve been somewhere else earlier in the day

    Even easier, print a load of 10% discount flyers/coupons and distribute them around local churches. That would actually target the people he clearly wants in his joint and (I assume?) still be legal.

  10. says

    The portion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Title II referred to is in 42 US Code section 2000(a), which deals with equal access: “(a) Equal access: All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.” In the Supreme Court Case that deals with Title II, Heart of Atlanta Motel v US, the intent is fairly obvious that 1: Title II was meant to provide access on an equal basis (for instance: no take out only option for one group on the basis of color, religion, national origin, or race, but a different group based on the same categories has full access to the facilities and services), and 2: the commerce power, which Title II relies on, only applies where another constitutional principle does not. On this point, we need to remember that the Civil Rights act, which depends upon the interstate commerce power of Congress, is superseded by the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution, which prevents congress from passing laws that prohibit free expression of religion. This free expression is applied to persons, which not only includes individuals, but organizations and corporations as well – whose personhood is legally extended on the basis of the individuals that make up the organization. Any business is allowed to promote religion, including in discounts or donations. For a federal law to say otherwise is a violation of the 1st Amendment. The issue of Title II, on the other hand, is whether access was not provided as it would be to other groups listed. For instance, are those of other religion’s allowed full access to the facility and their services, is one group charged inflated prices on the sole basis of their color, religion, etc (here we are talking about one menu with differing prices that inflate prices for one group, not the same menu for all with an offer of discounts). I think that Bailey’s has a good case and a very good chance of setting precedence that will stop this misinformation campaign by the FFRF. Bailey’s should retain a good lawyer that understands first amendment constitutional law. Organizations that defend 1st Amendment issues for free, such as ADF, ACLJ, etc, come to mind.


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