Atheists Accuse Pizza Shop of Violating Their Civil Rights by Offering Church Bulletin Discount — and Here’s How the Owner Is Reacting

Billy Hallowell | August 20, 2014      

A restaurant owner who is under fire for offering a faith-based discount to customers says he doesn’t plan to discontinue it, despite receiving a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a secular activist group.

Steven Rose, owner of Bailey’s Pizza in Searcy, Arkansas, told TheBlaze Wednesday that he posted a 10 percent discount on his restaurant’s Facebook page on July 19 for anyone who brought in a church bulletin. Not long after, he received a comment from a user named “Bong Hits for Jesus” that read, “Good luck on your discrimination lawsuit.”

“I didn’t give much credence to it,” he said of the comment, but the story doesn’t end there.

What followed was a letter postmarked July 30 from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an organization located in Madison, Wisconsin, that called Rose’s discount an act of discrimination and a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. An unnamed local resident who found the discount offensive reportedly alerted the group.

“The law requires places of public accommodation to offer their services to customers without regard to race, color, religion or national origin,” Elizabeth Cavell, an attorney who works for the atheist legal firm, told KTHV-TV.

But Rose, a Christian who recently opened Bailey’s Pizza July 1, said he firmly disagrees with this assessment, claiming that the discount was merely a “marketing tool” that enabled him to reach out to people of faith whom he associates with.

“I didn’t want to exclude anyone,” he said. “It was just like giving a discount to the Boy Scouts or the military and they made it an ugly thing.”

While the Freedom From Religion Foundation apparently wants Rose to discontinue the discount, he said he has no plans to comply and that a lawyer he consulted with said that the atheist group doesn’t “have a leg to stand on.”

“From their argument, if I’m giving a discount to the elderly, it’s agism. If I give one to police offers, I’m prejudiced against people who aren’t police officers,” Rose said.

The discount will remain in place unless a judge tells him he is violating the law. In that case, he said he would comply, but that he doesn’t believe he has violated any statutes.

“Short of [a judge’s ruling] there’s nothing that they’re going to say to me that makes me waver on what I believe,” Rose said. 

He also made an important point about the faith-based discount: one doesn’t actually need to be a churchgoer to receive it.

“I didn’t say you had to go to church. I said come in with a church bulletin,” he said, noting that some churches publish their Sunday bulletins on their websites. “[Atheists] can download it and bring it in.”

The pizza shop owner told TheBlaze that, though the Freedom From Religion Foundation requested that he write a letter to explain how he plans to “remedy the problem,” he has no plans to offer an official response.

“I really wonder if this is the best use of their resources. What are they doing about ISIS, what are they doing about joblessness?,” he said. “My 45-cent discount — that’s a battle they should [wage]?

Rose said that he has been encouraged by the support he received in the wake of the complaint, noting that conservative legal firms have offered to help if needed.

He also noted that this isn’t the first time the Freedom From Religion Foundation has gone after targets in Searcy, a town of just 17,000 residents. Earlier this year, the group asked that a cross on display outside the local police department be removed. Rose also said the the organization went after the city council to try and halt public prayer back in 2010. 

In a separate incident, the Freedom From Religion Foundation recently convinced Mary’s Gourmet Diner in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to abandon its prayer discount after sending a similar letter to owner Mary Haglund.