Atheists vs. Cajun Cuisine, and The State Against All

Imagine you own a restaurant, and that as a dedicated patron of the performance arts you decide to give a discount to customers who come in with a program from a play, musical or opera. Nothing wrong with that, right?

Now suppose instead of being a dedicated theater-goer, you’re a devout church-goer, and suppose you decide to offer a discount to customers who come in with a church bulletin. If you’re in Pennsylvania, you’d be breaking the law, as Sharon and David Prudhomme found out the hard way.

The Prudhommes, who run Prudhomme’s Lost Cajun Kitchen in Columbia, Pennsylvania, decided to start the 10% church bulletin discount as a marketing ploy. However, a local member of the (Madison, Wisconsin-based) Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which has been involved in a number of similar cases across the country, believes that such discounts illegally favor the religious over the non-religious.

After looking into the case, the Human Relations Commission issued an Orwellian verdict: the restaurant can continue the discount, but they can’t use the word “church.” Instead, they must give discounts to bulletin holders “from any group oriented around the subject of religious faith,” which, according to the article, includes atheists (goddammit…for a detailed explanation of why that sentiment upsets me, click here).

“The word ‘church’ is problematic,” explained commission spokesperson Shannon Powers, “They could just say ‘bring in your bulletin from a faith-oriented group’ or however they want to word that.”

According to Powers, because the restaurant is a “public accommodation“, it is not allowed to discriminate or exclude on the basis of religious belief. (If restaurants are “public accommodations”, though, why aren’t churches, synagogues or mosques? After all, they serve the public too).

This is only the latest case of government bureaucrats sticking their noses in places where they don’t belong. The Prudhommes own their restaurant, and therefore they, not the government, should be able to choose how it is run.

It is disturbing, to say the least, that the government can tell a restaurant what words they may use to advertise a discount. (This is reminiscent of Minnesota’s crackdown on ladies’ nights a few years back, wherein the state told bars that it was illegal discrimination to offer discounted drinks to women but not men.)

Anyone who has followed my Stateless Patriot blog knows that I am no friend of organized religion (I’m an atheist, if I haven’t made it clear already). I probably should feel “discriminated against” by the Prudhommes, but I don’t. And it’s not just because I don’t live anywhere near Columbia, Pennsylvania–I would be just as ambivalent if the restaurant was located down the street from me.

Why? Because I don’t expect every business establishment with a U.S. ZIP code to welcome atheists with open arms.

Because I respect a person’s right to run their business however they see fit.

Because unless you live a town of fewer than 1,000 people, you have enough dining options that one restaurant’s refusal to serve you would not result in you going hungry (and the Prudhommes weren’t even excluding atheists–or anyone, for that matter–they were merely giving a discount to church-goers).

If you have a problem with the Prudhommes offering a discount to church-goers, eat somewhere else! This is a free country (allegedly).

It must be a sign of how good atheists have it in this country that the biggest civil rights issue currently facing us is that small town restaurants are offering discounts to customers with church bulletins.

Now if the Freedom From Religion Foundation can just go after girls who indicate in their OkCupid profiles that belief in God is “very important” to them, we will have finally put an end to discrimination and bigotry against nonbelievers.

Oh, wait, no…that’s not how it works.

Persuasion works better than coercion, especially when you’re an atheist. I mean, let’s face it, we’re not exactly the most popular group of people in the country (I believe we’re currently ranked between lepers and online predators in the survey of who you’d rather have as a neighbor) and nobody makes friends by whining to the biggest person in the room (government) when another kid hurts their feelings.

When the FFRF and similar organizations use the state’s coercive powers to further their goals, they are almost as bad as religionists who do the same (until atheists start going after Internet porn, I’m keeping that qualifier there).

As any good anarchist would say, coercion is never justified (even when it serves the–admittedly noble–goal of increasing acceptance of nonbelievers).

The Freedom From Religion Foundation does good work with regard to separation of church and state, even if they can occasionally get a little overzealous. However, the FFRF is doing freedom (not to mention many of its own supporters) a disservice when they try to take a legal chainsaw to any area in which religion consociates with any other facet of public life.

I guess–when it comes down to it–most atheists are not libertarians. Atheist groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation only oppose coercion when it’s employed by religionists, and see no problem with coercion when it’s initiated for secular or anti-religious purposes.

Unfortunately, I don’t place much confidence in religionists to appreciate the difference between atheists who just want to be left alone (like yours truly) and atheists who want to banish religion from the public sphere (like Dan Barker and his gang). To many believers, all atheists are the enemy, and to many atheists, religion is the enemy.

I propose, however, that atheists and religionists have a common enemy: the State, which forces atheists as well as Christians to violate their consciences with disturbing regularity, and which turns atheists and theists against each other in petty battles over who gets what percentage of government money and for what purpose.

Even though it was atheists who initiated the complaint against Prudhomme’s Lost Cajun Kitchen, it was the State that told the Prudhommes they could not use the word “church.” And even though it is Christians who seem to think up all of the silly freedom-limiting laws on the books throughout the U.S., it is the State that enforces those laws.

The godless and god-fearing don’t necessarily have to be enemies if we can learn to leave each other alone and recognize that our most dangerous enemy is a mutual one: the State.

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