Restaurant church discount draws investigation

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Restaurant church discount draws investigation

A family-owned restaurant in Pennsylvania is under a state discrimination investigation for offering a 10 percent discount for diners who present a church bulletin on Sundays, reports Baptist Press.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission confirmed there is an investigation against Prudhomme's Lost Cajun Kitchen in the town of Columbia. The complaint was filed by John Wolff, a retired electrical engineer.

"I did this not out of spite, but out of a feeling against the prevailing self-righteousness that stems from religion, particularly in Lancaster County," Wolff told the York Daily Record. "I don't consider it an earth-shaking affair, but in this area in particular, we seem to have so many self-righteous religious people, so it just annoys me."

According to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, a restaurant is classified as a public accommodation. As such, restaurants are not allowed to discriminate based on religion, among other things.

Sharon Prudhomme, who owns the restaurant along with her husband, said she's not discriminating against anybody -- and plans on fighting the charges. She told Fox News Radio she is bothered the state is "basically agreeing" with Wolff.

"We're just a mom and pop. We're not some big chain like the Olive Garden," she told Fox News Radio.

Prudhomme said the trouble started in April 2011 when she received the first of several letters from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). The FFRF is a Wisconsin-based organization of "more than 17,000 freethinkers, atheists, agnostics and skeptics," according to its website. The FFRF demanded that she stop giving discounts to patrons who brought in a Sunday church bulletin.

"I just filed it and blew off the other letters," Prudhomme said. "I said I have no intention of taking it off the website."

In late June the restaurant was served with a 16-page complaint from the state of Pennsylvania, accusing her of discrimination.

"I'm an American," Prudhomme said. "This is America. This is my business and we're not breaking any laws."

She said a representative from the state suggested that she should compromise and sign an agreement that she would offer discounts to any civic organization in the town.

"I said, 'Wait a minute -- you're asking my husband and I to give anybody coming through my door a discount?'" she recounted. "They said yes."

"I said, 'Are you crazy?'"

"We have taxes to pay," she said. "We have utility bills, payroll, mortgages and they're expecting me to give everyone a discount?"

She added, "This is our business. We're the ones paying the taxes. We need the people coming in. Our life is in this -- and then to have someone come along and tell me what I can do and what I can't do?"

She wondered if their other discounts might be considered discriminatory, like the one on Tuesday night where kids under 12 get to eat free. Or what about the senior discount?

"Could someone under 65 complain?" she asked.

Wolff told Lancaster Online that he discovered the church discount on the privately owned restaurant's website.

"That rubbed me a bit the wrong way," he told the online publication. "It's not a big deal in itself and I have no animosity towards Prudhomme's, but I do bear a grudge against a religious right that seems to intrude on our civil rights."

If the commission determines there's enough evidence to support the complaint, it could be referred to a public hearing. Should the restaurant owners be found in violation, it's unclear what penalty they might face.

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[07/10/2012] Print Version

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