Ohio restaurant pressured to cancel discount for Sunday churchgoers. But how is it illegal?

An Ohio restaurant owner threatened with legal action for offering a church discount said the angriest reactions have come from those who don’t think he should have cancelled the deal.

The owner of the Starters Cafe in Cheviot, Ohio came under fire when a single customer left a negative Yelp review because of a 10-percent discount offered to anyone who presented that morning’s church bulletin at Sunday brunch.

Justin Watson thought the idea was a good marketing strategy given that there are several churches within a mile of the restaurant, which opened in June, as he explained on “Fox & Friends” Saturday.

But the woman wrote that what Watson was doing was illegal, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a member of the Secular Coalition of America, then threatened legal action. Watson’s attorney, Jason Phillabaum, contends that his client did not discriminate against anyone but is just offering a discount, regardless of one’s denomination or beliefs.

Watson had issued an apology to the customer who accepted, and removed the negative review,

“We are shocked that there is such little understanding of the Civil Rights Act and that there could be this kind of confusion, naivete that you can reward some customers for their religious beliefs and penalize others,” Annie Laurie Gaylor, the co-president of the FFRF, told WKRC.

“A restaurant would not want not discriminate based on, oh, if you’re white, today, you can get 20 percent off. You can’t say, oh, if you went to church today, you can get 20 percent off,” she claimed, apparently unaware of promotions like Ladies Night or Senior discount days.

(Image: screenshot)

But civil rights attorney Megan Fields pointed out that the policy must be truly discriminatory for there to be a case.

“Because these people weren’t denied access to the restaurant. They were still permitted to come inside, eat the food and receive service. It’s essentially that they didn’t receive the 10-percent discount,” Fields told WKRC.

“It kind of took me by surprise that something that small is this big of a deal. It’s like telling me I can’t give dad 50 percent off on Father’s Day or offer a local veteran a discount on Sunday when he comes in to eat breakfast. It just seems like these [discounts] are the kind of things that happen all the time in this business on a regular basis,” Watson said.

He eventually changed the offer to be a 10 percent discount for anyone who comes in Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

“The majority of the response has been positive,” Watson told Fox News’ Abby Huntsman. “The only negative I’ve really had are from people who are upset with me for taking it down in the first place.”

Watson was surprised by the controversy but said as a business owner, “ultimately I’m just trying to serve my community.”

“And at the end of the day, my community consists of a dozen churches in a one-mile radius, two of them are even non-English speaking churches, and I’m just trying to provide what my community demands,” he added.


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