A county official in Texas is challenging a U.S. Postal Services regulation banning religious content on personalized custom stamps.
Susan Fletcher, a devout Christian who serves as the Collin County Precinct 1 commissioner, filed a complaint last month with the U.S. District Court of East Texas in hopes it will protect “her constitutional rights to free speech and religious liberty granted under the First Amendment.”
The lawsuit says Fletcher wanted to create personalized postage stamps to reflect her faith during the Christmas season.
USPS allows customers to use third-party companies to create stamps designed by citizens.
One stamp design Flethcer created for Christmas features a Nativity scene under text saying: “Emmanuel God with us.”
Fletcher said she tried to create a stamp that reflected her religious beliefs through PhotoStamps.com, a subsidiary of Stamps.com.
However, the lawsuit states that Fletcher’s stamps were rejected by Stamps.com and USPS because of a regulation that prohibits images or text that contain a depiction of religious content. USPS reserves the right to determine whether a stamp design meets the criteria.
The lawsuit argues that the policy allows secular depictions on the same topics.
“Ms. Fletcher has a sincerely held religious belief that she is compelled by the Lord to use her God-given artistic abilities to advance a religious message in all available communications media, including custom stamps for various holiday and celebratory occasions,” the lawsuit argues.
“Ms. Fletcher considers these stamps to be an essential aspect of her religious practices and Christmastime message for friends and family.”
Fletcher is represented by Winston & Strawn, LLP, a law firm that participates in a national network affiliated with the First Liberty Institute, a leading nonprofit legal group devoted to defending First Amendment rights.
“USPS offers its own version of a religious stamp, but, ironically, it will not allow religious Americans to personalize stamps containing an expression of their own religious beliefs for their own use,” Jeremy Dys, special counsel for litigation and communications at First Liberty Institute, said in a statement. “This regulation by the USPS not only chills speech, it silences it.”
The lawsuit contends that the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that “this kind of categorical exclusion of religious perspectives on permitted topics constitutes impermissible viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee.”
The lawsuit further states that the stamp regulation “creates a substantial burden” on Fletcher’s rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The lawsuit asks the federal court to enjoin enforcement of the “illegal aspects” of the regulation and order the USPS to allow PhotoStamps.com to print Fletcher’s holiday stamps.
No comment will be provided by USPS, as the agency has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation.
In addition to the Nativity scene design, the court document explains that Fletcher also created customized stamp designs for other federal and Texas holidays.
Fletcher’s Texas Independence Day stamp reads: “God bless Texas.” In addition to an Easter stamp, Fletcher created a “mission trip” stamp that cites Matthew 28:18-20.
The lawsuit notes that Fletcher has not yet submitted her stamp designs because of PhotoStamp’s “admonition regarding potential liability for publicly challenging the customized postage criteria.”
The lawsuit also contends that while PhotoStamp’s policies prevent religious content, the company has advertised custom postage with religious imagery representing the religious holidays Hanukkah and Kwanza.
“PhotoStamps has engaged in conduct that is inconsistent with its stated policies and the policies of USPS,” the lawsuit reads. “By allowing PhotoStamps to promote and sell customized postage stamps that display certain religious images but not others, USPS has engaged in unlawful viewpoint discrimination and burdened Ms. Fletcher’s religious practices.”