Leifel Jackson, executive director of the charitable Reaching Our Children and Neighborhoods (ROCAN), asked the water park if the discount would extend to his non-profit. Jackson was told that ROCAN could not receive the discount because it is not a church group.
… without the discount, Jackson said he couldn’t afford the admission and ROCAN’s planned trip was canceled, crushing some kids’ hopes.
Even restaurants that offer church bulletin discounts must give the same discount to everybody, bulletin or not. And it seems like a bad business plan to turn away 35 kids who would gladly pay the discounted entry fee just because they’re not part of a church group.
In response to inquiries from FFRF and Arkansas Matters (newspaper), the owner David Ratliff agreed to stop the discount the rest of this summer… but just to make sure he doesn’t try again next year, FFRF sent him this letter (PDF):
Willow Springs Water Park’s restrictive promotional practice favors religious customers, and denies both customers who do not attend church as well as nonbelievers the right to “full and equal” enjoyment of Willow Springs Water Park. Any promotions should be available to all customers regardless of religious preference or practice on a non-discriminatory basis.
Max Brantley at the Arkansas Blog explains the problem with this type of preferential discount:
But to fully consider the issue, I think you need to look at it more broadly than the case at hand — discounts for church groups versus reduced prices for poor kids shepherded by a former gangbanger turned community worker.
What if a Chevy dealer sold Impalas cheaper to atheists than to Christians? Or what if houses on Chenal Circle were priced higher for Jews? What if preferred Razorback seating was sold on a sliding scale — cheapest for Baptists, most expensive for Episcopalians? Is there really any practical difference except the amount of the discount? I grant you that deals like Willow Springs’ are so ubiquitous — and the benefits at issue so small — that it is turf few are anxious to attack. But, the inherent favoritism built into the system is exactly why groups like FFRF are important to oft-forgotten minorities. They at least provoke thought.
***Update***: After all of this, Ratliff decided to cancel the discount altogether. He could have extended the Monday discount to all groups. Instead, everyone will just pay full price.
FFRF said it would have been far nicer and shown good will had Ratliff extended the Monday discount to all 501(c)(3) groups, particularly those serving children. However, FFRF said dropping the promotion, thereby ensuring that secular groups are not charged more, at least conforms to the Civil Rights Act.
(Thanks to Andrew for the link!)