A program authorized by the U.S. Postal Service for companies to create custom Christmas stamps for consumers is under fire for rejecting one design because it included, in the background, the roofline of St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Moscow icon that probably more than any other image identifies the Russian city.
The structure not only is an important historic location but it is part of a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s been run by the government in Moscow for more than 80 years.
But even that’s apparently too much religion for the USPS program, according to officials at First Liberty Institute.
They have written a letter to Postmaster General Megan Brennan insisting that there be a review of an order that was submitted by Tavia Hunt under the program – and rejected repeatedly.
First Liberty explained the woman just “wanted to send Christmas cards to her friends and family with customized postage stamps recalling her family’s visit to Russia for the World Cup.”
“To fully express herself through these greetings, Tavia ordered customized stamps featuring a portrait of her family in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, a site so well-known for its cultural and architectural significance that it is included as part of a UNESCO world heritage site. Tavia ordered these customized stamps through Zazzle, who, in conjunction with Stamps.com, is a United States Postal Service (‘USPS’) approved licensed vendor for customized postage stamps,” the institute explained.
However, after the order was accepted, it was abruptly canceled.
“No one should have to go to court to send a Christmas card,” said Hiram Sasser, general counsel for First Liberty Institute. “USPS policies are so ambiguous and unequally applied that even its approved vendors don’t know what is allowed and what isn’t. The USPS has made Zazzle and Stamps.com agents of discrimination.”
When Zazzle and Stamps.com objected to the “religious” background of the proposed stamp, Hunt was told the order would be processed if the image was cropped to make the image of the historic cathedral “less obvious.”
Hunt accommodated the demand, but then saw her order canceled again.
“Ultimately, Zazzle chose to indefinitely ‘pause’ its production of custom postage for the entire nation rather than run afoul of the Postal Service’s comprehensive ban on religious images,” First Liberty said.
“All I wanted was to add something personal to my family’s Christmas cards. I was shocked that a family photo that includes a historic cathedral in the background is considered too religious by the Post Office,” Hunt said.
The organization’s letter questions how the regulations are being applied, and if they are being applied as the Post Office intends, their constitutionality.
“We write to request that you immediately rescind an unconstitutional United States Postal Service regulation that bans any depiction of religious content on customized posted,” the letter explains.
“If the USPS determines Mrs. Hunt’s stamps were properly rejected under its regulations, the regulations raise serious First Amendment concerns,” the letter said. “The USPS Customized Stamp Program’s total censorship on even incidentally religious images is unreasonable given that the USPS directly markets stamps to the public containing religious acknowledgements, such as nativities and menorahs.”
The letter points out to the U.S. government that the cathedral in questions was “seized and secularized by the soviet government in 1929 and is now part of the State Historical Museum.”
“If the USPS determines that Mrs. Hunt’s picture violates the criteria against religious depcitions, then the regulations as construed are hostile toward religious expression. The USPS’s own discussion of its regulations acknowledges that customized stamps are a forum for private speech. … The regulation promotes unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.”