By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
An atheist organization is protesting U.S. Postal Service plans to circulate a stamp featuring Mother Teresa , claiming it violates postal regulations against honoring people whose achievements are affiliated with religion.
FoxNews.com is reporting that the Freedom from Religion Foundation is urging it supporters to boycott the stamp and to buy one featuring atheist actress Katharine Hepburn instead. The group claims that the Mother Teresa stamp violates postal regulations against honoring “individuals whose principal achievements are associated with religious undertakings.”
“Mother Teresa is principally known as a religious figure who ran a religious institution,” said Foundation spokeswoman Anne Laurie Gaylor. “You can’t really separate her being a nun and being a Roman Catholic from everything she did.”
When asked why Mother Teresa was any different than Nation of Islam spokesman Malcolm X or Baptist minister Martin Luther King, Jr., who were also honored with a stamp and not protested by the group, Gaylor said these figures were known for their civil rights activities, not their religion.
U. S. Postal Service spokesman Roy Betts expressed surprise at the protest. “Mother Teresa is not being honored because of her religion, she’s being honored for her work with the poor and her acts of humanitarian relief,” he told Fox. “Her contribution to the world as a humanitarian speaks for itself and is unprecedented,” he added.
According to a press release issued at the time of the stamp’s unveiling, the Postal Service chose to honor Mother Teresa for her compassion toward the poor and suffering, and her service to the sick and destitute of India for nearly 50 years. “Her humility and compassion, as well as her respect for the innate worth and dignity of humankind, inspired people of all ages and backgrounds to work on behalf of the world’s poorest populations,” the statement said.
The Foundation disagrees and is not only asking members to boycott the stamp but is also asking them to engage in a letter-writing campaign to spread the word about the “dark side” of Mother Teresa, such as how her religious order allegedly took in more money than it used for the poor.
“There was criticism by the end of her life that she turned what was a tiny charity into an extremely wealthy charity that had the means to provide better care than it did,” Gaylor accused. “…There’s this knee jerk response that everything she did was humanitarian, and I think many people would differ that what she was doing was to promote religion, and what she wanted to do was baptize people before they die, and that doesn’t have a secular purpose for a stamp.”
Not all atheists are on board, however. Bruce Sheiman, author of “An Atheist Defends Religion” accused the Foundation of being “hypocritical” and really “stepping over the line.”
He believes the Foundation is protesting out of concern that the humanitarian work done by believers will overshadow charity work done by atheists.
“Like billboards and bus ads, this is just part of the whole campaign that they’re doing to make non-belief more visible,” he said.
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