Friday, November 30, 2012

Break Bread Together?

     Thursday's Lancaster Intelligencer Journal headlined a story “Break Bread Together?” about a nearby restaurant, Prudhomme's, which offers a discount to customers who present a “current church bulletin.” A local member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, claiming discrimination against non-Christians. The parties received notification of the Commission's ruling during Thanksgiving week.
     The ruling stated that discounts must be given to bulletin holders “from any group oriented around the subject of religious faith.” Note that the word “church” has been eliminated. Because atheists are considered by the Federal Courts to have a religious creed, the ruling covers them.
     At first reading it seems like a reasonable ruling, and it appears likely that no problems will be encountered in the Lancaster County geographic area. But if it is extended to rural areas, there is a problem: There are few organized American Humanist Association chapters or other atheist-oriented groups outside the metropolitan areas. Even in those areas, meetings are not normally accompanied by bulletins. Will the restaurant accept a membership card in the AHA?
     Regardless of what the courts say, among members of some atheist organizations there is an ongoing disagreement about whether or not atheism is a religion. Also, I am sure the ruling covers agnostics, but I know of no group organized around agnosticism.
     If the restaurant were to offer discounts to firemen, policemen, red-haired persons or left-handers, there would be no problems – after all, the owners have freedom of speech.
     Except where religion is involved. I can think of no other concept that is as divisive.
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