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by Daniel Schere

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Daniel Schere’s upcoming staff column. Read more in this week’s edition of YES! Weekly.

The talk about Mary’s Gourmet Diner and its now-extinct 15 percent discount for praying has finally died down, but I wanted to revisit the issue because there’s one thing that I can’t get over. Why would a firm in Madison, Wisconsin have any interest in a local restaurant over 800 miles away? On Friday I got some answers from attorney Elizabeth Cavell of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The foundation has 21,000 members throughout the country. Its goals are to investigate issues related to the separation of church and state as well as educate the public about nontheism. They typically receive about 2,500 complaints each year.

The issue with the discount is one of the legal things that we take an interest in that is not actually based on the constitutional separation of church and state, Cavell said. It’s based on the statutory Civil Rights Act and it’s more of an issue of discriminatory practice.

She said most complaints that the foundation handles are from a combination of members around the country and ordinary citizens.

I wondered whether the social media outburst surrounding this issue that was followed by national media attention caused the foundation to get involved. Cavell admitted that it was a factor.

I think we had more people reporting this to us from all over because of the widespread attention it was getting, probably thanks to Facebook, she said. Even just the effect of it moving along the internet and people hearing about it, sometimes that will lead somebody somewhere to report it to us.

Cavell added that it is not uncommon for them to take action in states outside of Wisconsin or the midwest, and that it is not standard practice for them to utilize social media to find cases.

We hear about discounts like this that don’t get any media attention, most notably church bulletin discounts for church attendance, she said.

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