Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

The Freedom from Religion Foundation is blasting the U.S. Postal Service for its plan to honor Mother Teresa with a commemorative stamp , saying it violates postal regulations against honoring “individuals whose principal achievements are associated with religious undertakings.”

The stamp — set to be released on Aug. 26, which would have been Mother Teresa’s 100th birthday — will recognize the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize winner for her humanitarian work, the Postal Service announced last month.

But Freedom from Religion Foundation spokeswoman Annie Laurie Gaylor says issuing the stamp runs against Postal Service regulations.
“Mother Teresa is principally known as a religious figure who ran a religious institution. You can’t really separate her being a nun and being a Roman Catholic from everything she did,” Gaylor told

As usual the militant atheists are hurting their own cause by acting like petty jerks. Yet while it is tempting to dismiss them because of their bad motives, their argument does have some technical legal merit.

There are twelve criteria used to determine who qualifies to appear on a U.S. postage stamp. The one most applicable in this case is #9:

9. Stamps or stationery items shall not be issued to honor religious institutions or individuals whose principal achievements are associated with religious undertakings or beliefs.

As Frank Lockwood , religion reporter for the Arkansas Times , asks on his blog: “Are Mother Teresa’s principal achievements ‘associated with religious undertakings or beliefs?’”

The honest answer for most Christians would be, “Yes.” Although she is getting the award because she won the Nobel Peace Prize, that is not her principle achievement, nor were her actions disassociated from her religious vocation and beliefs. Lockwood concludes, “ . . . I think Mother Teresa would argue that her acts of charity were religious undertakings motivated by her love of God and her devotion to Jesus Christ. ” I completely agree.

That leaves us in the unfortunate position of claiming that if she meets the current legal qualifications, then her primary achievements were not based on her faith. This we must reject, since Mother Teresa would no doubt reject this claim herself. So unless I’m missing something, it appears that we should concede that she clearly does not meet the current legal criteria.

Naturally, I think the selection criteria is absurd, a ridiculous concession to the pernicious myth that secular neutrality is not only possible but also something to which we should aspire. We shouldn’t allow this criteria to go unchallenged. The U.S. Postal Service and the members of the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee should immediately scrap this discriminatory restriction.

Nevertheless, while it’s easy to snicker at the self-pitying motivations of the activists who fear that “the abundance of humanitarian work done by believers will overshadow that done by atheists,” it’s not so easy to dismiss their legal claim. Mother Teresa should certainly appear on a stamp—but only after we change the law. We shouldn’t look for loopholes that require denying the importance of her faith in order for her to qualify. Mother Teresa should be honored for who she really was—a Catholic nun motivated by the love of Christ—and not as a faux, secular saint.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles