Are religious messages appropriate as restaurant toy premiums?
Posted Dec 24, 2008

Are religious messages appropriate as restaurant toy premiums?

by Sheila Musaji

An unusual incident happened recently at a Long John Silvers restaurant at the Mall of America in Minnesota.  The owner decided to pass out small coloring books and notebooks with Bible versus written on them as a premium for children.

A Muslim family visited the restaurant and noticed that the toy that their 3-year old child received with his kid’s meal was a notebook with the words “Build with Jesus” written at the top along with a Bible verse.

The Muslim family requested a non-religious premium and was told that there were none available.

The family contacted CAIR-MN who contacted the restaurant and ultimately the restaurant owner issued an apology.

According to a CAIR-MN press release:  “In a letter to CAIR-MN, the Long John Silver’s franchisee owner Steve Oborn wrote: “In an attempt to support and respect a multitude of diverse needs and preferences, it is our policy to have an optional toy(s) available per request. Recognizing the needs of younger children, those with allergies, or disabilities, varying religious affiliation, or their parents that prefer treats containing no sugar, are amongst those sensitivities we hope to always accommodate and respectively respond to…Please extend our sincere apologies to this family.”  Osborn also wrote that the toy distribution policy has been reviewed with current management and staff to ensure that “proper procedure will be followed in the future and eliminate further occurrences of this sort.”

CAIR-MN has also requested the parent company to review their policy about the distribution of religious materials to customers.  “While the restaurant has the right to distribute whatever materials it wishes, we believe it is inappropriate to include such texts in children’s meals without first making parents aware of the religious content,” said CAIR-MN Civil Rights Director Taneeza Islam. “It would be more appropriate if the restaurant offered toys that included wisdom from different faiths and offered a non-religious alternative.” /pl_usnw/cair_mn_calls_for_probe_of_religious_material_in_children_s_meal

Sounds like a simple issue that was resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.  But sites like Weasel Zappers, the Free Republic blog,  the Muslims Against Sharia blog, Islam in Action,  and many other sites have attracted a lot of hateful comments.  Interestingly the keywords for the posts on these sites are terms such as: antichristian, reepingsharia,  muslimpropoganda, stealthjihad, jihad, and of course terrorism.  A site called Creeping Sharia goes so far as to claim that this is CAIR demanding “full sharia compliance at Mall of America”. And, slant right sees CAIR’s concern as an example of “Muslim supremacy in America” which must be protested.

These are relatively minor anti-Muslim sites, but Sean Hannity’s site  has a discussion forum which includes a poll on “Does CAIR have a valid complaint?”  The four choices that can be checked are - Yes, No, We must be sensitive to the diverse society we live in, and ala akBARF.  84.6% have voted No.
I don’t think this is a separation of Church and State issue because a fast-food restaurant is privately owned, and the owner can distribute whatever they wish.  Distribution of any religious toy without first informing parents that it carries a religious message may be inappropriate, but the owner is within his rights to do so.  Those who visit such an establishment are also within their rights to make their reaction known, to object, or even to boycott an establishment with such a policy.  In this case it was a simple error that an alternative toy was not available.  The parents could have simply thrown the toy away and never visited another Long John Silvers Restaurant.  They chose instead to make their feelings known, and there was some resolution to the problem.  It seems to me that this was reasonable. 

As an American Muslim I can’t help but wonder what the reaction of these same folks would have been if the religious message had been Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist, or Hindu rather than Christian.  After all the fuss that was made over a silly doll that is perceived by some to say “Islam is the light”, and the demands from Christians for Walmart and other stores to remove this doll from their shelves, I can’t help but think that their reaction would have been the same as that of the Muslim parents.