So, this one started with this post on the Freethought Blogs network. In it the writer of A Million Gods (whomever that is) is discussing the owner of a pizza parlour in Searcy, Arkanses who is offering a 10% discount to anyone who turns up with a flyer from a local church, synagogue, mosque or other place for worship. Seems they’re a non-discriminating discriminator who just really doesn’t like atheists.

The question here is whether this is speech or whether it’s discrimination. As others have said if this was “10% off for white folks” there wouldn’t be any discussion here. Society has long ago decided that race isn’t something that you can use to differentiate between people.

Equally, if this was a government establishment there also wouldn’t be anything to debate here. In the US at least, the state can’t advocate one religion over an another (or, in this case, discriminate against lack of one).

But, for a private establishment this is certainly legal but, while obviously unpleasant, where does it stand ethically? What if it was “10% discount if you can show valid library membership”? I can think of a lot of people I know who would be favour of that one.

Perhaps it has to do with things-that-you-choose vs. things-that-you-are? To discriminate against black people – obviously bad. To positively discriminate in favour of, say, Girl Guides – is that a bad thing? People will certainly have varied opinions.

An interesting case pointed out to me by my wife would be discriminating against “Jews” since the word can mean either the set of racial Jewish people or those who believe in the Jewish faith.

If we do go down the “choose / are” line I’m sure some would bring up homosexuality but that feels like it’s almost a completely settled case of “are” now (as it should be).

Faith, however, is an interesting one. I would say it’s definitely a personal choice. However, again, some would say it makes up the core of who they are.

It’s a difficult one but I think I come down on the side of “speech” for this particular case. Besides, as people have commented on the original blog post, since this is a private business if people don’t like it they can just go elsewhere, tell their friends not to go and, if they so choose, protest outside – that’s speech too.

I’d be interested, as ever, in hearing other people’s opinions. If this sort of thing interests you I highly recommend Free Speech for Me But Not for Thee by Nat Hentoff which I believe should be part of any standard school curriculum.

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