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Ohio restaurant cancels church discount after complaints from atheists

A restaurant owner in Ohio is facing legal questions after offering a discount to church-goers.
WLWT

A restaurant owner in Ohio is facing legal questions after offering a discount to church-goers.

Justin Watson opened Starter's Café in Cheviot about seven weeks ago.

Watson said he was trying to stir up some business with a discount offer to any church.

"Any congregation, any religion, any area, whatever -- as long as you brought me a church bulletin, I would give you 10 percent off your meal for the day. It seemed pretty simple and here we are,” he said.

Watson said he got angry comments from some saying he was discriminating against non-religious people.

Someone passed along a form letter from the Freedom From Religion organization. It told people to alert the owner to the illegality of the practice.

Jim Helton with American Atheists said it’s not always clear cut but he agrees.

"A lot of the answers in these cases is it depends. In this case, it was illegal because it was only offering to churches,” Helton said.

Attorney Jason Phillabaum said he doesn’t think there was anything wrong with it.

"The law prohibits discrimination. And in this case, he's not denying service, he's offering a discount if someone does something specific like bring in a church bulletin,” he said.

To open the offer up to more people, Watson changed it.

"Now we're just offering it on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m., 10 percent for everybody,” he said.

Watson also said he sent an apology letter.