The Daily Show aired a segment the other night about the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s response to the “prayer discount” offered by a diner in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (We covered the story on this site yesterday.)
The gist of the segment was that it was wrong for atheists to interfere. While the punchline of the report was that FFRF co-President Dan Barker was a “dick,” Daily Show correspondent Jordan Klepper uncritically presented restaurant owner Mary Haglund‘s assertion that merely taking a quiet breath would have netted the same 15% discount.
To me, that seems to be a dubious claim for something that was termed a “prayer discount,” but I mention it less to quibble over the particular than to illustrate the general nature of the interview.
The segment conveyed the impression that FFRF’s interference was petty, unwarranted, and cruel.
While the piece got some good laughs at the expense of atheists, its message was wrong and, frankly, disappointing from a show that usually champions causes of fairness and equality.
Here’s why: discrimination is discrimination. It doesn’t make it okay just because it’s a small act of discrimination. You wouldn’t eat at a restaurant that let just a few mice into the kitchen; you wouldn’t be okay with an accountant who skimmed just a little for himself; you wouldn’t shrug at a dog who only bit you occasionally; you wouldn’t laugh off marginal racism or sexism or homophobia; and on and on it goes. A little of a bad thing is still a bad thing. Many acts of discrimination are minor. That doesn’t make them justifiable. (Also, as FFRF explained, this isn’t a one-off discount, but something that is seen in some parts of the country with surprising regularity).
However insignificant The Daily Show might find it, offering a discount only to religious people (or those who feign religion) is discrimination.
If you need convincing, consider the opposite: suppose a restaurant offered a discount to people who didn’t pray. Would it be discriminatory to charge praying customers full price, but provide those without gods (or those who didn’t acknowledge them) a discount? Of course. The message would be clear: we prefer non-believers and will discriminate against believers. Yet when discrimination is directed at the non-religious, it’s somehow seen as unimportant.
No one is suggesting that a 15% discount at Mary’s Gourmet Diner is going to ruin anyone’s life — or day for that matter. FFRF certainly didn’t suggest that. But discrimination based on religious belief (or the lack thereof) is wrong, whether it’s a minor or major instance. Atheists are already considered untrustworthy; we also face considerable discrimination. So we shouldn’t just shut up and sit down when we see examples of discrimination (nor should any group in comparable social straits). Reminding a person of the law when they are breaking it is not being a “dick.” Making a statement that it’s not okay — morally or legally — to discriminate against atheists is not being a “dick.”
I know Klepper is a comedian, and the segment was funny. It’s too bad, though, that The Daily Show didn’t spend some time looking into the big picture before picking a minor example of the work FFRF does in order to paint its efforts as petty dickishness.