Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart will be featuring a North Carolina restaurant owner on the show this week after a controversy erupted earlier in the year regarding that restaurant's discounts given to patrons who prayed before their meals.
Mary Haglund of Mary's Gourmet Diner in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was contacted by a representative from The Daily Show to do a segment on the fallout from her story. Despite stating publically that the 15% prayer discount was for all religions, the Freedom From Religion organization threatened legal action if the discount persisted, which caught the attention of the comedy mock news show.
"Jon Stewart chooses all the stories," Mary said to the area's Fox News 8 station. "I asked the producer how and why this story. He said somebody from Charlotte pitched the story. Then I think they researched it and heard what I said and that the FFRF had come after me threatening a lawsuit."
Hagland said that she never meant to offend anyone with the policy, but the Freedom From Religion organization persisted.
"Your restaurant's restrictive promotional practice favors religious customers, and denies customers who do not pray and nonbelievers the right to 'full and equal' enjoyment of Mary's Gourmet Diner," wrote FFRF staff attorney Elizabeth Cavell in a public letter sent to Mary back in August.
Mary stopped issuing the discounts, but encouraged the restaurant's customers to keep praying. "While you may exercise your right of religious freedom at this restaurant by praying over your meal to any entity or non-entity, we must protect your freedom from religion in a public place," Mary hand-wrote in a sign at the restaurant. "It is illegal and we are being threatened by lawsuit. We apologize to our community for ANY offense this discount has incurred."
So why would a national cable entertainment show as popular as Jon Stewart's take notice of this relatively small-town ordeal? The Daily Show typically addresses issues from a comedic standpoint, but with a heavy liberal slant, often poking fun at anything to do with conservative Christians, especially in the South. But Mary says that it's not what you'd expect.
"They (the 'Daily Show' producers) told me they saw me as a nice lady trying to do something positive and pretty much got bullied by the FFRF," Hagland said. "The 'Daily Show' folks see the FFRF people as being petty and that they should perhaps choose their battles better."
The restaurant owner has yet to see a final cut of her segment on the show, although she said nothing but nice things about the crew who came out to interview her. And if it all turns out that Mary is the butt of the joke, she doesn't mind one bit. "I felt like it was all in good fun, but we will see, huh? I'm also honored to be a part of bringing attention to Winston-Salem. I hope everyone enjoys it in the spirit in which it was intended."
"I can't wait to see what they do with it," she continued. "I love the show, and yes, if anyone makes fun of me, let it be Jon Stewart!"
Mary was not given a specific date for the episode, but said it should be coming in the next week. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart airs at 11 p.m. weeknights Monday through Thursday on Comedy Central.