Is the Postal Service Making War on Religion?

By Published on September 10, 2015

Don’t expect new Christmas stamps this year because for the first time in decades the U.S. Postal Service won’t issue a new stamp depicting any Christian religious figure or symbol. No baby Jesus. No Mary. And none of the three wise men.

Those of other faiths will be disappointed, too.  There will be no printing of new stamps for the Jewish holiday of Chanukah, the African-American celebration of Kwanzaa or the Muslim Ramadan holiday of EID, the Daily Caller News Foundation has learned.

The Chinese, however, will be cheered to know there will be a new postage stamp for the Chinese New Year.

In 45 of the last 50 years, the postal service has printed new images for each Christmas season, including Mary, angels, wise men, Nativity scenes, the Star of David and even Santa Claus. But this year, all of them have been banished from the production presses.

Four of the five years without new religious images came since the year 2000. The other was in 1977 under President Jimmy Carter.

Christians will have to settle for a new stamp series called “A Charlie Brown Christmas” — including Linus kneeling by a scrawny Christmas tree, Snoopy and children ice skating, Charlie Brown checking his mail box, Linus leaning on a snowy brick wall and Charlie Brown standing in front of Snoopy’s doghouse. There will be one with Charlie Brown and a Christmas tree.

Oh, and there’s a new holiday stamp of “geometric snowflakes.”

The postal service’s Charlie Brown print announcement was buried in a release issued  just before Labor Day.

“This is one symptom of a very broader effort to purge religion from the public square,” said Matt Sharp legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a non-profit legal group that litigates on behalf of the First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

“They can only do Frosty the Snowman or something that has no religious content. It’s part of other efforts to take down religious symbols and religious monuments. It’s part of the effort to completely drive religion out of the public square,” Sharp said.

The decision whether to halt the printing presses for commemorative stamps was made by a little known federal advisory committee within the postal service, the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee.

The advisory committee is appointed by and sits at the pleasure of the Postmaster General. Ten of the 12 current committee members were appointed during President Obama’s term.

Each advisory committee member’s term is three years and they can be renominated to serve up to 12 years. There are no open hearings prior to their appointment.

The group includes an African-American graffiti artist, a former Rolling Stone Magazine art designer, a swimming champion, an African-American historian, an antique collector and an Obama political appointee to the Department of Education.

Two are branding and marketing experts, three are stamp collectors and four are artistic designers. Two are veterans of the postal service or its Board of Governors.

None are theologians, pastors, priests, Rabbis or Imams. Nor are there any denominational representatives on the committee.

“It’s a sad day when those of deep religious belief and those who are active participants in faith are not made members of important committees like this,” Sharp said. “These committees ought to reflect who America is, especially when you think of stamps.”

The committee’s deliberations are also secret. None of their meetings are opened to the public. Communications with the committee to suggest commemorative stamps can only be done by mail because the panel won’t accept messages sent via email, fax, CD or DVD.

The first time Christmas was eliminated from the stamp collection was during Jimmy Carter’s term.

In 1977, the postal service agreed to print a holiday period stamp honoring the Hopi Indian tribe by featuring a Hopi Pot. The next year saw the return of the Madonna with Cherubim from a sculpture chiseled by the 15th Century the Italian artist Andre Della Robia.

Madonna images were included on holiday season stamps for 21 consecutive years until 2000 when the  last year of the Clinton presidency saw none issued at all during the year.

The Clinton 2000 stamp series emphasized secular themes such as the New York  Public Library, author Tom Wolfe, scientific achievements by NASA, the cartoon figure Road Runner and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Patricia Roberts Harris, the first African-American member of a presidential cabinet.

Mark Saunders, a postal service spokesman said it takes between two to three years for a stamp to go from idea to production.

Madonna resurfaced in 2001 after President George W. Bush entered office and continued annually until 2005 when only holiday cookies were used to celebrate the season. Madonna was reintroduced the next year and appeared through the rest of the Bush years.

It was also during the second Bush presidency when the postal service printed a postage stamp commemorating the Muslim Ramadan holiday of EID, in 2002 after the 9/11 attacks.

In Obama’s first year in the Oval Office, the advisory committee appeared to have emphasized inclusiveness. That year the committee authorized new holiday stamps featuring the Madonna, Chanukah, Kwanza and EID.

However, it has been uneven during Obama’s tenure, with the Madonna or the Nativity scene appearing in only two of his last six years. The last Madonna stamp was in 2011.

New Kwanzaa and Chanukah stamps were last printed in 2013.

Saunders said that there is in effect a new policy to limit religious commemorative stamps to every other year. He said it was a decision made by USPS management, not advisory committee members.

“It was from the management of our stamp services team,” he told the DCNF. No notice of the change of policy was ever made public. Saunders did not say when the new policy went into effect.

However, there appear to be no limitations on how many individual commemorative stamps the postal service can produce. The total this year, including the 10 Charlie Brown postage stamps, will be at least 40 individual images. There were 44 last year.

Included in the last two years were stamps featuring Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Elvis, Wilt Chamberlain, Batman, hot rods, Mexican artist Martin Ramirez, celebrity chefs, and actors Ingrid Bergman and Paul Newman.

There were also print runs featuring nature, including stamps displaying the eastern tiger swallotail, penguins, water lilies, ferns, hummingbirds, vintage roses and tulips.

The postal service also printed a stamp warning about climate change in 2014, titled “Global Sea Surface Temperatures.”

Among activists honored during President Obama’s six years in office, the postal service has printed stamps commemorating civil rights activist Rosa Parks, gay activist Harvey Milk, poet Maya Angelou and Johnny Johnson, publisher of Ebony and Jet Magazine.

There also was a special stamp for the 1963 March on Washington.  No conservative activists have been featured during Obama’s years in office.

Politically, over the last two years the postal service has printed stamps for Representatives Ralph Ellison, Shirley Chisholm and Barbara Jordan, all Democrats and African Americans. Lady Bird Johnson was featured, too.

No Republican members of Congress have been depicted on stamps under Obama, but a special stamp recognizing the centennial of the birth of former President Reagan was issued in 2011. Since postal authorities say it takes two to three years to produce a commemorative stamp, the Reagan stamp may have been conceived during the second Bush presidency.

A stamp honoring Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican President, was issued earlier this year.

Saunders told the DCNF that presidents and first lady’s have not influenced the printing decisions since the creation of the advisory panel because it is non-political.

“There has been no such influence on our stamp program since we created the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee back in the mid-1950s,” he said.

He also said there is an inventory of one billion “forever” stamps of holiday scenes from previous years. However, he did not detail how many were of overtly religious figures or images.


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Copyright 2015 The Daily Caller News Foundation

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