Arkansas Water Park Makes Atheists Pay More Than Christians

That’s not how the people at Willow Springs Water Park were spinning it, though. They said church groups could get a $5 discount per child on Mondays — a discount no other group received:

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!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    Lots of places offer a group discount over that of an individual ticket price.  Group discounts are fine as long as the group is only definedd as a group of people exceeding some set number.  They get into trouble when they say certain types of groups get the discount (like church groups) where-as other types of groups don’t (like non church groups). 

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    I think even giving discounts to non-profits is questionable.

    • 3lemenope

      Could you elaborate a bit on your discomfort with the practice?

      • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        Well, to be honest, I’m not all that fond of the concept of non-profits to begin with, at least as they exist in the U.S. But in general, I see businesses like this as quasi-public… the owner does not have much right to decide who to serve and who not to serve. That restriction is usually legal when it comes to certain protected groups, of course. But a discount can be a sort of end-run around these rules.

        I’m not suggesting that offering a discount to non-profits would be illegal- I doubt very much that’s the case. I just don’t think it’s a practice that is ultimately beneficial to society.

        • 3lemenope

          Thank you.

  • Philbert

    The headline is not strictly true, even Christians have to pay full price if they don’t come as a church.

  • Randomfactor

    Extending the discount to all wouldn’t have let them demonize the “mean old atheists who made us raise the price for Christians.”

  • Martin

    Atheists will get blamed for them stopping the discount, but of course it was the Christians who decided they either get their privilege or no one gets it at all.

    • Parse

      Yeah, this situation smacks of the typical abuser’s line, “See what you made me do?  You made me hit you again!  Why did you make me do that?”

  • Baby_Raptor

    Well that’s kinda creepy.

    My roommate was just there with his family this past Monday. 

  • Guest

    Uh oh.  This is serious.  Let’s stop looking at all that Syria stuff and the economic problems we’re in and start focusing on what *really* matters.

    • 3lemenope

      It is certainly easy to make light of things when they don’t affect you.

    • 1000 Needles

      Congratulations! You’ve won the Dear Muslima award! 

      Let’s give them a great big round of applause!

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        I have a new one thanks to Agnostic

        In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same.

        – Albert Einstein

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cameron-Willadsen/550975056 Cameron Willadsen

    Supposedly they reinstated the discount after conducting some legal council but who knows how truthful that is. You know how the internet is.

    • Gardiner

      They did indeed reinstate it, since they have said on their facebook page that they are blessed to have been persecuted by the “atheist”.

  • Aaron Scoggin

    So why couldn’t they just extend the discount to all groups? Or are they trying to make this another “Mean atheists ruin Christian’s day” routine?

    Just wait for the ever vigilant FOX NEWS to pick up on this. “Atheists ATTACK a children’s water park!”

    • skinnercitycyclist

      “Water parks, Mandrake?  Children’s water parks?”

    • Gardiner

      Indeed, fox news did pick it up.  The comments on the FB page show much applause that someone “not with the mainstream media” is getting the story straight.  *small chuckle*

  • Corey

    “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”

    its the “if i cant have it noone can” mindset of religious fundies

  • Ken

    Just another display of Christian “charity” — as in the charity is reserved for Christians.  Somehow I don’t think that was the original intent.  I wonder how the good Samaritan would be interpreted these days.

  • Geoff Gone

    Is this a privately owned water park?  Because if it is, why would they not be allowed to set prices however they like…unless they receive tax support of some kind?

    • murphium

      Because they are open to the general public, they can’t discriminate based on race, religion etc.

      • http://www.facebook.com/BillKeilitz Bill Keilitz

        So what about other types of discounts such as senior citizen, military/veteran, ladies night, employee,  AAA motor club, etc…..?

        • murphium

          Those examples aren’t protected classes.
          The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin in places of public accommodations.
          Is ladies night even a thing?

  • Robster

    That’s a water park? I’ve seen more impressive pools at hotels. The manager is a dirtbag. Does delusion include a total lack of an ethic or business sense?

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Anyone notice the tidbit at the end of the Fox story?

    In that case, the restaurant’s owner refused to halt the promotion. And the matter is still pending before the secular Pennsylvania commission.

    They’re referring to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.  Which, yes, is secular.  But isn’t that an odd adjective?  Kind of like the secular court, or the secular DMV or the secular IRS?

  • From LR

    Arkansas Matters is totally a TV station. You can tell by their atrocious writing.

  • Gardiner

    The comments on the facebook page are jubilant, since this is a great victory for jeebus.


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