- The Washington Times - Friday, February 19, 2010

The Postal Service’s decision to release a stamp honoring Mother Teresa has prompted criticism and an online petition of support, but the service says it will not reconsider.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has expressed public disapproval of the stamp, saying the Postal Service is violating its own selection criteria. The Postal Service’s guidelines bar stamps that honor “religious institutions or individuals whose principal achievements are associated with religious undertakings or beliefs.”

Rebecca Markert, a staff attorney with the foundation, said the Catholic nun who worked with the poor in Calcutta and won the Nobel Peace Prize fits that description.

“The foundation objects to the stamp because the issuance of this stamp is in violation of the regulation,” Ms. Markert said in an interview Thursday. “Her humanitarian work was tied with her religious beliefs. You can’t separate that.”

The foundation also said Mother Teresa used her status as a public figure for religious purposes. Annie Laurie Gaylor, the group’s co-president, said in a statement that “Mother Teresa used almost every public occasion, including her acceptance speech for the Nobel prize, to promote Roman Catholic dogma, especially its antiabortion ideology.”

Roy Betts, manager of community relations and corporate communications for the Postal Service, denied the foundation’s claim and said plans will be finalized to release the stamp in late August or early September.

“It’s no violation at all. Mother Teresa is not being honored as a religious figure,” Mr. Betts said. “She’s being honored for her efforts to aid the poor.”

Ms. Markert said the foundation asked its members to boycott the stamp and to protest directly to the Postal Service. “This is a consumer complaint that we want the post office to know about,” she said.

Mr. Betts told The Washington Times that the stamp had received “overwhelming support” from the American public.

CatholicVoteAction.org, a political movement of Catholic laity, has solicited signatures for an online petition to the Postal Service supporting the Mother Teresa stamp.

The petition, which began last week and is titled “Stamp Out Bigotry,” encourages the Postal Service to resist pressure from secular groups that it accuses of “trashing this faith-filled nun who spent her life caring for the poor and needy of our world.” As of Thursday afternoon, the petition had 80,335 signatures.

Catholic Vote Action President Brian Burch said his group will mail the first round of responses to Postmaster General John E. Potter next week.

“We’ll list everyone’s names with the letter and send it overnight to someone in authority so the Postal Service knows a large number of Americans agree with them that this is a reasonable and certainly legitimate way of honoring the work of Mother Teresa,” Mr. Burch said.

Mother Teresa is “universally recognized as a servant of common good. And her service to the poor and needy are hardly something to be attacked or worthy of [the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s] disdain,” Mr. Burch said.

Mr. Burch said people “are pleased to know the Postal Service is not bowing to a tiny minority of people who want to impose their atheistic views on rest of country. … I’m hopeful that our country has moved beyond the silly and bigoted anti-religious battles that hit harmless efforts to honor people, public servants like Mother Teresa, against the perceived canonized view of American religion.”

This is not the first time a person with a religious background has been commemorated on a stamp. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was honored on two stamps, in 1979 and 1999. A 1986 stamp honored a Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Edward J. Flanagan, and a 2008 stamp reproduced a religious Renaissance painting - Sandro Botticelli’s “Madonna and Child.”

Mother Teresa died in 1997. The Catholic Church beatified her as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in 2003, one step short of a sainthood declaration.

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