Atheist Discrimination? Not The Whole Enchilada
Hemant Mehta blogged recently about a Texan friend of his who had ventured over to Pancho's Mexican Buffet in Euless (just west of Dallas) for a plate of beans, rice, and queso. When he walked in, he saw the posting to the right - indicating that a 10% discount would be offered to anyone who presented a church bulletin at the cash register.
This salsa-craving friend inquired if similar discounts were available for atheists, since being one, church bulletins were not easy to come by. Unfortunately, no other options were offered for those whose disdain for religion make acquiring something like this extremely unlikely.
Austin Cline of About.com's Atheism/Agnosticism site expanded on this situation further, and compared it to a grocer who had been criticized by the Freedom From Religion Foundation for distributing coupons for free milk in local Catholic mass bulletins. He points out that offering discounts based on theological creed is a violation of the Civil Rights Act.
It occurred to me that, as an atheist and a member of the North Texas Church of Freethought, I was in a somewhat unique position to test Pancho's true discriminatory intent. And since the Church's service happened to take place less than a week after the initial blog was posted, I could test this relatively quickly. Thus, after taking my leave of the Church members on Sunday afternoon, I snagged a couple extra copies of the bulletin and headed over to Pancho's.
As I drove west towards Euless, a dark, towering thundercloud loomed large on the horizon. Flashes of lightning crackled occasionally along the storm line, as if thrown by Yahweh himself, riding his seraph-driven cloud chariot to stop me from besmirching a holy discount offer with my profane "church" bulletin.
Walking up to the door of Pancho's I recognized the signs advertising the deal immediately. I had half-expected them to have been taken down, out of shame from the embarrassing exposure on the blogosphere. That did not appear to be the case.
Standing in line, I appraised the restaurant - it was full of large families with lots of kids, and a handful of overweight people. In other words, just about the clientèle you'd expect at an inexpensive buffet right after church on Sunday afternoon. And it was obvious that most had come from church - I caught bits and pieces of holy conversation from the various tables, and most were wearing their Sunday best. But the families that were in line next to me hadn't brought bulletins with them - I heard them specifically mention the offer and wish that they'd done so.
After placing my order, I proceeded straight to the cash register. As the girl rung me up, I casually mentioned, "Oh yes, and I brought my bulletin with me," and handed it to her. She glanced it over briefly, then set it down and punched in the discount. As I mentioned, the buffet is inexpensive, so the discount was less than a dollar, but it still felt good to receive it. When the receipt printed out, she stapled the bulletin to it and dropped it in a box, presumably for the manager to count later to assess the success of the promotion.
Although it was fun to have a freethought church bulletin recognized, I would imagine that just about any bulletin-looking piece of paper would have passed muster. I strongly doubt that it was even read, and I bet that anyone could print out any close approximation and receive the same benefit. It was pretty clear to me that, rather than intentionally (or unintentionally, but thoughtlessly) discriminating against atheists in an effort to promote religious belief, the restaurant simply has recognized their most profitable customer base, and have tried to stimulate it to visit more. The people most likely to come to such a restaurant in the first place would be large families with kids, who in Euless are most likely to be hungry as they leave church. If Pancho's can plant the idea that their church bulletins are worth a discount, then the last thing they hold in their hands before church ends will be a reminder of cheap flautas and tacos at Pancho's. Quite an ingenious strategy, really.
Another criticism was the presence of a sign, reading "Vaya con Dios." This was above the exit, and has been taken to indicate that only those who "go with God" are welcome to eat there. This couldn't be further from the truth - I ordered food and ate without incident, atheist notwithstanding. I seriously doubt that the sign is meant to be taken as an imperative - it's no more threatening than the French "adieu." It's entirely possible that anti-atheist discrimination will be coming, and from more than one quarter. But after having visited there, I seriously doubt that it's coming from Pancho's.