Stamp Out Postal Proselytizing by Annie Laurie Gaylor (December 2002)

The “In God We Trust” poster at the Capitol Station Post Office, Madison, Wis., gets a “thumbs down” from Freethought Today editor Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Learning over the Internet that “In God We Trust” posters were ordered up in every post office in the nation in late November, I sought to confirm this rumor with the United States Postal Service. I phoned its (dreaded) national switchboard and listened to umpteen menu options before making my request to a live person.

I was on hold for at least ten minutes before the voice returned and confirmed that there was indeed an undated “internal memo” ordering the posting of “In God We Trust” in every post office lobby.

The postal employee reluctantly read me the memo, which cited a House of Representative voice vote reaffirming the national motto, and another resolution reaffirming the religious Pledge of Allegiance and religious national motto that was signed into law by Bush in November.

When I asked if the postal employee could fax me this memo, as I needed verification before reporting it, I was put on hold for another ten minutes. A woman finally came on the line to turn down this request. When I naturally enough suggested she put it in the mail, she told me (I am not making this up): “The United States Postal Service does not have the capacity to mail you anything.”

She did, however, provide me with the name and local number of the PR woman at the Madison Post Office, a dyed-in-the-wool bureaucrat. Ever-helpful Pam assured me that it would be a “long wait” before I would see that memo.

Two days later, when I phoned back again explaining I was on deadline, she told me she had not attended to my request because I had not put it in writing. (She had not told me to.) She gleefully informed me she would then have seven business days to acknowledge my written request (which I duly faxed immediately).

Our representative’s office sympathetically promised to try to get the memo for me in a hurry, but apparently ran into the same bureaucratic stumbling block. There is still no paper memo, and it has been a week as I write this.

Meanwhile, Lynn, my assistant editor, accompanied me on an exciting foray to our local post office, to look for the “In God We Trust” poster. We found a blow-up of an antique stamp of the Statue of Liberty, in which, fortunately, the word LIBERTY is more prominent than the religious motto. The postal decree nevertheless sets atrocious legal precedent.

As we snapped a few photos for Freethought Today, a postal employee informed us it was “illegal” to take a photograph in a post office! We took three photos anyway, sure she was “going postal,” and that we really weren’t playing out a scene from “1984.” This charming postal employee then threatened to confiscate Lynn’s digital camera. As I was leaving, she kindly advised me:

“Where your rights stop, another person’s rights start.”

When I told the representative about this unbelievable comment, he wryly said he hadn’t realized Americans possessed “rights that stopped.” (I was glad to hear it.) He obligingly looked up the federal regulations–media are specifically permitted to take photographs in public areas of post offices, I was happy to learn.

S. 2690 passed the U.S. Senate 99-0 on June 27, only one day after Michael Newdow’s 9th Circuit victory against “under God” in the Pledge was released. On Oct. 8, it passed the U.S. House 401–5 (opposed only by the indomitable Barney Frank, Robert Scott, Michael Honda, Jim McDermott, and Pete Stark). Good ole George II signed it on Nov. 13, making it Public Law No. 107-293.

Freedom From Religion Foundation