Tavia Hunt | Cases | First Liberty

Mrs. Tavia Hunt just wanted to send Christmas cards to her friends and family with customized postage stamps recalling her family’s visit to Russia for the World Cup. To fully express herself through these greetings, Tavia ordered customized stamps featuring a portrait of her family in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, a site so well-known for its cultural and architectural significance that it is included as part of a UNESCO world heritage site. Tavia ordered these customized stamps through Zazzle, who, in conjunction with Stamps.com, is a United States Postal Service (“USPS”) approved licensed vendor for customized postage stamps.

After initially accepting her November order, Zazzle informed Tavia that her order was being canceled. Incredibly, Zazzle informed Tavia that the cancellation was due to the “religious” nature of her stamp, specifically the presence of St. Basil’s cathedral in the background. But, Zazzle indicated her order could be approved if the photo were cropped to make the cathedral “less obvious.”

A custom stamp for Christmas cards was just too religious for the USPS. But, there’s no good reason that a picture of a family vacation in front of a historic cathedral couldn’t be on a personal Christmas card. After all, the USPS issues several religiously-themed stamps each year.

After repeated phone calls and multiple emails between Tavia and customer service representatives with both Zazzle and Stamps.com who were clearly confused by the USPS regulation, Tavia’s order is still unfulfilled and, with just days before Christmas, her cards still haven’t been sent. In fact, Zazzle chose to indefinitely “pause” its production of all custom postage rather than run afoul of the USPS’s inexplicable and unconstitutional ban on religious images.

First Liberty Takes on the Postal Service

In response, Mrs. Hunt contacted First Liberty Institute to represent her and fight the rejection of her personalized stamp and the Postal Services 2017 regulation banning any depiction of religious content on customized postage.

First Liberty immediately sent a letter to the USPS seeking clarification of its policies regarding custom postage. In its letter, First Liberty explained that the USPS regulation is overly broad and as applied may violate the First Amendment’s free exercise clause. In fact, both Stamps.com and Zazzle.com commented against the breadth of the religious restriction when it was published in the Federal Register in 2017, but the offending rule never changed.

In response to the Postal Service’s rejection of her stamp, Mrs. Hunt said, “All I wanted was to add something personal to my family’s Christmas cards. I was shocked that a family photo that includes a historic cathedral in the background is considered too religious by the Post Office.”

If the USPS insists that Tavia’s family photo in front of a historic cathedral contains religious content in violation of the USPS guidelines, then the guidelines raise significant First Amendment concerns that may require further legal action.

“No one should have to go to court to send a Christmas card,” said Hiram Sasser, General Counsel for First Liberty Institute.“USPS policies are so ambiguous and unequally applied that even its approved vendors don’t know what is allowed and what isn’t. The USPS has made both Zazzle and Stamps.com agents of discrimination.”

News Release
For Immediate Release: 12.20.18
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

(Left: Original Hunt family photo rejected by Zazzle; Right: Cropped version of photo suggested by Zazzle.  Photos may be used with credit to, “First Liberty Institute” or “FirstLiberty.org”)

United States Postal Service Regulation Denies Personalized Christmas Stamp Because of Religious Content

Regulation that prevents “any depiction” of religious content forces USPS vendors to reject family vacation photo in front of historic cathedral

PLANO, TX—First Liberty Institute sent a letter today to the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) seeking clarification of its policies regarding custom postage.  The letter follows the adoption in 2017 by the USPS of a regulation barring “any depiction” of religious content, which forced vendor Zazzle and Stamps.com to deny First Liberty client Tavia Hunt the purchase of a personalized, custom Christmas card stamp featuring her family’s vacation photo in front of a historic cathedral.

You can read the letter here.

“No one should have to go to court to send a Christmas card,” said Hiram Sasser, General Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “USPS policies are so ambiguous and unequally applied that even its approved vendors don’t know what is allowed and what isn’t.  The USPS has made Zazzle and Stamps.com agents of discrimination.”

In late November, Mrs. Hunt sought to purchase a personalized, custom stamp through Zazzle, which partners with Stamps.com to print custom postage, that included a photo of her family in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral taken this year while in Moscow for the World Cup.  After initially accepting her order, Zazzle informed Mrs. Hunt that her order was being canceled because of its “religious” nature, specifically the presence of St. Basil’s cathedral in the background.  Zazzle then indicated that Mrs. Hunt’s order would be approved if the photo were cropped to make the cathedral “less obvious.” Ultimately, Zazzle chose to indefinitely “pause” its production of custom postage for the entire nation rather than run afoul of the Postal Service’s comprehensive ban on religious images.

In response to the rejection of her stamp, Mrs. Hunt said, “All I wanted was to add something personal to my family’s Christmas cards.  I was shocked that a family photo that includes a historic cathedral in the background is considered too religious by the Post Office.”

First Liberty explained that the USPS regulation is overly broad and as applied may violate the First Amendment’s free exercise clause.  Both Stamps.com and Zazzle.com commented against the breadth of the religious restriction when it was published in the Federal Register, but the offending provision was not changed. Without clarification, legal action is possible.

“American taxpayers who fund the Postal Service deserve to know whether they can order a customized stamp or not,” added Sasser.

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About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.

To download a copy of this news release click here.

First Liberty | The Hunts

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To The American Legion:

As a grateful citizen, I support your effort to honor those who have fallen in battle and to keep the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial standing as a visible reminder of valor, sacrifice, endurance, and devotion.

Veterans memorials like the one in Bladensburg, MD are symbols reminding us of the sacrifice of our service members and the cost of war. Tearing down the Bladensburg Memorial would erase the memory of the 49 fallen heroes of Prince George’s County—like they never even existed.

We cannot allow the Bladensburg Memorial to be bulldozed.

Please know that you have my support and backing in your petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.