Knowing When to Fold ’em

This FOX News story on the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s strident objections to the upcoming USPS stamp commemorating Mother Teresa — (courtesy of Mere Comments) — is fascinating to me.

An atheist organization 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 Freedom from Religion Foundation is urging its supporters to boycott the stamp — and also to engage in a letter-writing campaign to spread the word about what it calls the “darker side” of Mother Teresa.

Postal Service spokesman Roy Betts was unimpressed:

“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,” Betts told

“Her contribution to the world as a humanitarian speaks for itself and is unprecedented,” he added.

The FFRF, which has recently focused its attention on the fine work being done by atheists in Haiti — Nonbelief Relief for Haiti, they call it — are encouraging folks similarly concerned by the stamp to focus on Katharine Hepburn instead:

Of course, you can vote with your pocketbook, and boycott these stamps by selecting other 2010 releases for purchase (such as Katharine Hepburn, whose views are publicized in the Foundation’s freethought bus campaign. Hepburn said: “I’m an atheist and that’s it. I believe that there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for other people.” )

Aside from my continuing bemusement as to how atheists can “know” that “we should be kind to each other,” I find myself wondering if this is actually a fight the FFRF wants to have. I think that Betts is correct in saying that the vast majority of folks will see this stamp as a justified acknowledgement of a woman whose work for the poor of India was legendary. Nearly everyone — no matter their religious persuasion — considers Mother Teresa to have been one of “their own,” and quite possibly the greatest humanitarian we will see in our lifetimes.

If FFRF is trying to win “hearts and minds,” I think they’d have better luck going back to school prayer or the Pledge of Allegiance. Leave this wizened little nun from Calcutta alone. And her stamp, as well. The world thanks you.


Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming -- "where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks" -- he is a columnist for Crisis Magazine and the Patheos Catholic portal.

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