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Prudhomme's Lost Cajun Kitchen: John Wolff, Atheist, Files Complaint Over Restaurant's Discount For Churchgoers

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LANCASTER, Pa. (RNS) For more than a year, Prudhomme's Lost Cajun Kitchen in Lancaster County, Pa., has offered a Sunday special: Diners who bring in a current church bulletin receive 10 percent off the purchase of their dinners.

But the promotion rubs some people the wrong way, including John Wolff an atheist and member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Wolff, a Lancaster resident who said he's never been to Prudhomme's, recently filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission claiming the 22-year-old restaurant should not give discounts based on religion. "I bear them no ill will," he said, "but they shouldn't be pushing religion."

Shannon Powers, spokeswoman for the Human Relations Commission, confirmed the complaint had been filed. Prudhomme's has 30 days to submit a written answer to the complaint.

The restaurant's co-owner Sharon Prudhomme said she's not about ready to pull the plug on the deal, which was designed to drum up business.

She said many in the community, including pastors and ministers, are regular customers at Prudhomme's, known for its Louisiana cuisine such as catfish po' boys, alligator platters and crawfish.

"I thought, 'How can I boost our Sunday sales for dinner?' And, I thought, 'Well you know what? We have a lot of folks who go to church who come in throughout the week,'" Prudhomme said.

Over the past couple of months, Prudhomme said, she received two letters and a phone call from the Freedom from Religion Foundation demanding the restaurant end the promotion.

The Madison, Wis.-based group primarily works on issues concerning separation of church and state. It filed suit over the Pennsylvania legislature's naming 2012 the Year of the Bible.

"I just kind of blew it off. Gosh, I have more things to concentrate on," Prudhomme said of the letters.

Prudhomme, who does not attend church due to her work schedule, said she told the group she operates an independent restaurant and suggested nonchurchgoers can pick up bulletins from any church and bring them to the restaurant to cash in on the discount.

"We're the most unprejudiced of all. I don't care if you are purple or polka dot. The only requirement we have is men must wear sleeves," she said.

Prudhomme said she questions how the promotion differs from senior citizen discounts or free meals for kids under 12 years of age.

"A senior discount isn't so bad. We'll all get there eventually. But we won't all become churchgoers," said Wolff, who is 80.

He said he came across Prudhomme's bulletin promotion while doing an Internet search of the restaurant, which he had heard good things about. But, he said the restaurant's discount for churchgoers annoyed him. "My interest is in social justice and tolerance, and I get a little annoyed at all the religiosity," he said.

Wolff said he was born a German Jew and was a devout Catholic from age 10 to 16. He said he became an atheist about 15 years ago when he became dismayed at the religious right.

He said the complaint against Prudhomme's isn't as much about the actual discount as it is the bigger picture of what is happening in this country. "I'd just be happy to bring this out in the open and get people to reflect a little bit," Wolff said.

(Sue Gleiter writes for The Patriot-News.)

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