November 25, 2005

No more Madonna and Child Christmas stamps?

Darleen discovers.
To know my mom is to know that she has never indulged in cutesy stuff. Every year she always selects the Christmas stamp that features a classic painting of Madonna and Child. She asks if they have any classic Christmas stamps and the man pulls out a couple of sheets of last year's Madonna and Child. Mom notices he doesn't seem happy and he says to her, "These are all I have and they'll be the last you ever see." Mom asks, "What do you mean?" He explains the USPS will not be issuing any more "religious" stamps.
After all these years of having a choice between the religious-themed and the non-religious-theme seasonal stamps, now all must choose the Santas and snowmen. So ends an American tradition that meant a lot to a lot of people. What was the point? No one had to pick the Madonna stamps. The Post Office makes millions off of people sending out Christmas cards. I think many people preferred the Madonna stamps because they reproduced beautiful works of art, from the grand historical tradition of depicting the Madonna and Child. The notion that the religious side of Christmas is something only Christians appreciate is actually quite wrong. I'll bet there are plenty of non-believers who prefer the religious imagery to the commercial-secular things that lack a beautiful art tradition. Leonardo da Vinci did not paint snowmen and Santas.

UPDATE: The commenters question Darleen's postal clerk and dig up some links. So I wouldn't take that story to mean that the Post Office has abandoned the stamps. I've added a question mark to the post title. Let my post serve the purpose of making part of the argument for retaining the stamps, for those who are feeling Newdowish about them. There's a lot of discussion about whether government should be issuing Madonna stamps, and I think it's still an interesting question, whether the policy has been changed or not.

IN THE COMMENTS: Darleen comes by and says:
I did offer my mom's story as an anecdote about what she was told, unsolicitied, over the counter, at her local PO. Not just about the stamps but about the "Happy Holiday" greeting in lieu of "Merry Christmas".

Via phone to USPS customer service I was unable to get a definitive answer on whether or not there WILL be religious stamps offered in the future.

A 2006 Madonna and Child design was presented in August to reporters at a Stamp show I have been unable to get a confirmation that the USPS is actually going to issue it next year.

53 comments:

the pooka said...

Before the tide of (self-)righteously indignant John Gibson dittoheads take over applauding your post, let me say one thing:

The USPS made the right call here.

A federal agency has no business hyping any religious holiday, under any circumstances. The fact that it did at one time is regrettable. It's nice to know we're past that now.

ShadyCharacter said...

Pooka,

Are you capable of reading and processing the written word? Did you just get tired half way through Ann's post or did you just not catch the bulk of her argument, that even non-religious people can appreciate classic works of art? I guess you would argue that any religious artwork on display in a government funded museum should be pulled down and burned also, right? After all, "A federal agency has no business hyping" religion right?

Maybe we should snatch the yarmulke's off of people's heads as they enter a federal courthouse?

I think fascist is a term thrown around too loosely, so I won't call you a secular fascist.

oops...

Stiles said...

This could be much ado about nothing. There have been other years when a new Madonna stamp hasn't been issued due to inventory from the previous year. Perhaps that is what happened this year. I know I was able to get the 2004 Madonna last week. The allegation that the Madonna stamp is being terminated is based on a single anecdote, so I'm not going to feel a sense of loss until there is some verification.

USPS has tried to be more inclusive in terms of holiday stamps after an attempt to phase out the traditional religious Christmas stamp about ten years ago was over-ruled by President Clinton. And if Clinton wouldn't let the USPS end the Madonna stamp, I doubt Bush would.

Ann Althouse said...

Pooka: I would encourage you to read Justice Breyer's concurring opinion in Van Orden, the recent Ten Commandments case. Key passage:

[I]n reaching the conclusion that the Texas display falls on the permissible side of the constitutional line, I rely less upon a literal application of any particular test than upon consideration of the basic purposes of the First Amendment's Religion Clauses themselves. This display has stood apparently uncontested for nearly two generations. That experience helps us understand that as a practical matter of degree this display is unlikely to prove divisive. And this matter of degree is, I believe, critical in a borderline case such as this one.

At the same time, to reach a contrary conclusion here, based primarily upon on the religious nature of the tablets' text would, I fear, lead the law to exhibit a hostility toward religion that has no place in our Establishment Clause traditions. Such a holding might well encourage disputes concerning the removal of longstanding depictions of the Ten Commandments from public buildings across the Nation. And it could thereby create the very kind of religiously based divisiveness that the Establishment Clause seeks to avoid. Zelman, 536 U. S., at 717-729 (Breyer, J., dissenting).

Justices Goldberg and Harlan concluded in Schempp that

"[t]he First Amendment does not prohibit practices which by any realistic measure create none of the dangers which it is designed to prevent and which do not so directly or substantially involve the state in religious exercise or in the favoring of religion as to have meaningful and practical impact." 374 U. S., at 308 (concurring opinion).

That kind of practice is what we have here. I recognize the danger of the slippery slope. Still, where the Establishment Clause is at issue, we must "distinguish between real threat and mere shadow." Ibid. Here, we have only the shadow.


These are words of wisdom, written by one of our liberal Justices. Think abou it.

Ann Althouse said...

I mean, think about it.

the pooka said...

shadycharacter said:

...so I won't call you a secular fascist.

Wow, Ann. You were right about the influx of new posters.

Big turn-off.

Dave said...

Ann: One quibble. The post office does not "make millions" on the mailing of anything; if it did, it would not have to continually raise prices for its stamps.

The Post Office receives federal subsidies because it can't recoup its operating costs. It doesn't "make" money any more than it makes the mail it delivers. In fact, it has been losing loads of money over the years.

reader_iam said...

Although not the end of the world, I know, this does sort of bother me, too. What's wrong with expressing yourself when you're sending out Christmas Cards to friends and family? I mean, gee, I guess they're public in the sense that they're on the outside of envelopes--but what are you easily offended stamp-voyeurs out there doin' lookin' at or worryin' about other people's mail, anyway?

Seriously, though, according to this USA Today article of 8/10/2004, people can make their own customized stamps under an agreement with stamps.com
I wonder if those so-inclined could upload a photo of a great piece of art depicting the Madonna and Child and make their own Christmas stamp.


One line in the USA article is a little concerning, though:

There are PhotoStamp limits: no nudity, no controversial or politically partisan images and no copyrighted material.

Do you suppose that putting together your own Madonna and Child stamp would fall under the category of "controversial"? Would that be something the USPS would disallow?

(Btw, Ann, I've noticed before that sometimes my links don't get through when I post them in a comment here. I don't know if it's how I'm doing it or if I'm violating a blog policy of which I'm ignorant. If the latter, maybe you'd want to look at those links and see if they're something you might want to include in an update, if you feel strongly at all about people being able to make their own custom stamps. Not saying you should care etc., however. Just a thought.)

the pooka said...

Ann --

Whether or not Breyer is a "liberal" is a topic for another day.

I'll admit to being a bit of an absolutist on this particular topic. At the same time, the arguments from tradition have always seemed a bit like those on the losing side of Loving v. Virginia and its ilk. I much prefer Justice Clark's majority opinion in Schempp to the Goldberg concurrence, to wit:

"(I)t is no defense to urge that the religious practices here may be relatively minor encroachments on the First Amendment. The The breach of neutrality that is today a trickling stream may all too soon become a raging torrent."

In a time of large and increasing amounts of federal money going to support various "faith-based initiatives," tacit (at best) Administration support for intelligent design in elementary and secondary school curricula, and any number of other such "minor" encroachments, I'll take these sorts of policies when I can get them.

Ann Althouse said...

IAm: I haven't had trouble doing links in the comments. Perhaps you typed the code in wrong. But I think you'd get an alert. You could ask Blogger's help line. It's nothing I'm trying to do.

ShadyCharacter said...

Ann, I only just scrolled down the main page and saw the posts about tone and level of discourse on the comments. In light of that, I've taken a second look at my first post and I think it was a little over the top.

It's a failing of mine that when people go out of their way to push buttons, my buttons occasionally get pushed.

That said, Pooka's comment was intended to provoke exactly the response I gave, and as such was simply a slightly more clever exercise in trolling than is normally seen. That s/he begins "Before the tide of (self-)rightesouly indignat John Gibson [who?] dittoheads..." shows that exactly who s/he was aiming her comments at.

In the future, I will try to avoid getting riled up at his/her ilk.

Love the blog and feel free to delete my earlier comment if you think that's best!

reader_iam said...

They seemed to come through this time. I must be getting better at something in my old age! ;)

Palladian said...

So I assume this means that there will also no longer be any Eid , Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa stamps?

Do you approve of this development as well, pooka? And does your "absolutism" extend to removing all the religiously-themed paintings (like the ones depicted on the Madonna and Child stamps) from all the public institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery in Washington? Both these institutions also make money selling images of the religiously themed works in their collections. I suppose that has to stop as well?

the pooka said...

Palladian --

In the first case, yes. No religiously-themed stamps, period. How hard is that?

Second: The Met is private/not-for-profit; they can (relatively speaking) do what they will. As for the National Gallery, of course they need not remove the religiously-themed works. They are there because they are art, not as religious symbols; selling calendars/postcards/whatever doesn't imply any sort of religious endorsement for that reason.

The last time I checked, the USPS didn't have much of an art collection itself, religious or otherwise, and was not primarily tasked with "serv(ing) the United States of America in a national role by preserving, collecting, exhibiting, and fostering the understanding of works of art, at the highest possible museum and scholarly standards." In other words, it's a postal service; it need not get entangled with religion.

grumps said...

Umm...all really good discussion, I guess.

A quick visit to the USPS.com website shows that most all of the Holiday inventory is from last year, though. It is the 2004 Madonna but it is also the 2004 ornaments, Hannukah, and Kwaanza as well. Looks like the only new issues for this year are the cookies.

Anybody care to start a rant against cookies?

Ann Althouse said...

Thank you, ShadyCharacter, for regretting the tone of the first post. You wrote a substantive post that was marred by the "fascist" comment.

Pooka: "In a time of large and increasing amounts of federal money going to support various "faith-based initiatives," tacit (at best) Administration support for intelligent design in elementary and secondary school curricula, and any number of other such "minor" encroachments, I'll take these sorts of policies when I can get them."

I think this is why it's important to choose the right things to object to. Things imposed on schoolchildre are a special problem. And things involving spending a lot of tax money are very important. Some of the symbolic things that are part of a beloved tradition: I recommend mellowing out here. It's part of living in a diverse culture. We don't need to oversanitize. Often the people who object to these things are very strong minded and doctrinaire. They could learn to give a little. The people who love the traditions, like Darlene's mom, are just regular people who are not trying to oppress anyone or tap the treasury.

P. Froward said...

The "zero tolerance" position on this doesn't make any better sense than any other "zero tolerance" position. That stuff works only for robots. The rest of us don't need or want a nanny with white gloves and a swagger cane constantly inspecting every corner of public life for traces of Forbidden Ideas.

Pooka: What if the National Gallery were to sell religiously-tainted postcards during the holiday season? Wouldn't it be easy for somebody with commendably literal and absolutist habits of mind to mistake that for endorsement of religion?

Ann Althouse said...

Cookies are the most evil food of all. They aren't as good as cake or candy or ice cream, but you usually have a bag of them around, so you start to eat them when you have a craving for something sweet, and you know they aren't even that good, but somehow every time you eat one it creates a sense that you've got to eat one more. I don't know what it is, maybe a sort of a bad aftertaste that you think the next cookie will erase, but it's only momentary, and the cycle begins again. Inevitably, you reach the point where you decide that it will be necessary to eat the entire bag of cookies, even though you didn't even like the first one, and you start to rationalize this behavior. You think, I will never buy this kind of cookie again. I will keep no cookies in the house. And you shouldn't. They are evil. Next time, buy a cake. And just go ahead and it the whole thing. What the hell difference does it make anyway?

downtownlad said...

This is a clear violation of the Establishment clause, so good for the Post Office.

There is only one solution.

Privatize it.

Stinkopotamus said...

One quibble with a quibble...

The poster (Dave) alleging that the USPS is subsidized by taxes is entirely incorrect. Federal subsidies of the Post Office were eliminated by 1982, and over the past quarter century that Post Office has been 100% self-funded, and in fact profitable.

Link: http://www.nalc.org/postal/perform/selfsufficient.html#selfsufficient

Over the same period, real costs of postage have gone down.

It is a common misperception/myth among the right that somehow the Post Office is inefficient and were it divested of its monopoly, private companies would compete to send representative to your house, pick up a letter, and deliver it anywhere in the country for less than 38 cents.

One needs only look at the overnight industry, where private companies perform essentially the same function but a bit faster, and charge almost 50 times more than the cost of first-class postage, to see what a ridiculous fantasy postal privatization really is.

dick said...

I am sorry but I think the USPS is wrong. What they are doing is infringing on my right ot practice my religion by allowing those whose religion is non-religion to take away my right to use stamps that are a form of art. I resent that very much.

It is getting to the point that those who do not believe in any religion are becoming more religious about it than those of us who do have a religion that we do not push on others. I do not believe that the first amendment gives us total freedom from religion. It gives us freedom of religion. That is a difference I do not see those who practice the religion of patting themslves on the back for not having a religion making.

the pooka said...

Ann said:

You think, I will never buy this kind of cookie again. I will keep no cookies in the house. And you shouldn't. They are evil.

I have never agreed with you as much as I do right now.

Happy (Belated) Thanksgiving, everyone. Now I'm off to the gym...

Stiles said...

Anne,

Clearly you haven't been introduced to the right Christmas cookies.

My mother, bless her, makes several different Christmas cookies, four of which are truly superlative desserts.

A fine Christmas cookie can hold its own against cake, pie, candy, and ice cream. Yes, even Chocolate Shoppe ice cream.

PatCA said...

The only way to find out what the USPS is doing is to email them...or write them, if you don't want to the Kings of Snail Mail.

Anyway, a polite letter has an effect. I ordered from Harry & David last year because they had a whole section using the forbidden word "Christmas" and I told them that's why I was ordering. They emailed back and thanked me. This year the front page of the catalog reads "Christmas 2005 catalog"!

I rarely even go to church, but I hate the debasement of language and critical thinking. Don't let the Newdows of the world dominate the playing field!

(Also asked Target, if a person is offended by calling a Christmas tree a Christmas tree, wouldn't they also be offended by the sight of said tree? Still waiting for an answer...)

PatCA said...

BTW sometimes you have hit hit your browser refresh button to see new posts and/or comments on this site.

Ann Althouse said...

Stinkopotomus: I feel like giving you a prize for writing the single most pithily informative comment ever contributed to this blog.

neil said...

Ann: One quibble. The post office does not "make millions" on the mailing of anything; if it did, it would not have to continually raise prices for its stamps.

Dave: One quibble. The oil companies do not "make millions" on selling anything; if they did, they would not have to continually raise prices for their gasoline.

Joan said...

Thanks, Stinkopotamus, for setting the record straight on the USPS's funding -- it saved me the trouble of having to look up a link myself. Great job!

Ann: clearly, you are not eating the right cookies. You need to enter cookie-rehab. I suggest Trader Joe's Crispy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies as a first stage. Then maybe you can progress to some of their more challenging offerings, like the Ginger Jo-Jo's (a gingerbread sandwich cookie).

Pragmatist said...

The holiday is called Christ-mas. What is the big deal if the Post Office issues a Madonna-Child stamp (especially since there are plenty of secular ones to choose from)? It would not bother me if the Post Office did other religously themed stamps. Frankly the uber-marketing of Christmas is more threatening to its spirit than anything the ACLU could do--but I wish public institutions like the Post Office could stop being so timid in the face of political correctness.

SteveWe said...

After some 30 years of polical correctness, I am truly sick and tire of it all. On one hand we must accept anyone's totem so that we can claim to be "diverse" and inclusive. On the other hand we must reject any particular totem because it offends someone who is a member of some other "clan."

Modonna & Child, Eid , Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa stamps? Where is the black sabbath stamp or the Druid stamp? How about just a big black X for the Atheists?

Give me a break! It's impossible for the USPS to print a stamp for every faction and sliver of beliefs. Give it up. And why should the USPS print any stamp recognizing any religious holiday whatsoever?!

It was better in years past when there were stamps for Arbor Day (who's against trees?) or famous Americans (B.T. Washington, for example).

Enough already. May I live long enough to see PC dead and buried in the ash heap of attempted propaganda.

ShadyCharacter said...

SteveWe, I'm not sure I understand your post. You decry "30 years of political correctness" and then WHAM! make the central PC argument on this topic: "why should the USPS print any stamp recognizing any religious holiday whatsoever?!"

Can you please clarify? Is this some of that patented Koss/Atrios irony? :)

SteveWe said...

ShadyCharacter,

At first the USPS only had a Christian stamp and a Yuletide stamp. The Kwaanza, Hannukah, and Eid stamps came about later -- all to maintain PC. If PC is the whole point, then where are the Buddhist New Year, etc stamps? If being PC is to do all then do them all. If PC is to offend no one, then don't print any of these stamps.

My point is that PC cuts both ways. It's impossible to be PC when everyone wants inclusion and just about anyone can claim offence. PC is a lose/lose situation.

As long as PC exists, we remain at each others' throats for one reason or another. PC is a bad, bad idea.

Ann Althouse said...

Joan: I need to just never eat a cookie. It's not worth it.

AnechoicRoom said...

O.T. ... seems to be a small problem with the platform? From my end anyway .... clicking on the hyperlink to your site (from my blogroll), takes me to yesterday's posts. Today's being non existent. Reloading the main url, same. Strange. Veddy, veddy (been that way for 24hrs)

AnechoicRoom said...

P.S. ... the only way through (for me anyway), is via the direct Memeorandum (or TTLB) links.

Steven said...

Well, again, this athiest can't see any possible way in which the Post Office selling people stamps they want to buy in any way establishes religion.

I'm not being forced to buy them, I'm not subsidizing them (at least any more than any other first-class stamp); my receiving one in the mail no more oppresses me than if the letter had a non-religious stamp and a privately-printed Madonna-and-Child sticker. The most effect on me I can see is by increasing the variety of stamps, they encourage stamp collectors to buy more to keep in their collections, which offsets my mailing costs.

Question -- if this is an impermissible establishment of religion, wouldn't a stamp depicting Michaelangelo's David, or Rubens's The Three Graces also so be?

Ann Althouse said...

Anechoic: I'm not hearing that from anyone else. Can't think what that is.

Jim C. said...

There was a minor flap on the subject of the USPS and Christmas last year. This is the only reference I can find to it. I don't remember if there was anything more to this or not.

reader_iam said...

No one seems be responding to my comment about the fact that there's supposedly an ability to make your own custom stamps, which I would assume means you could upload your own Madonna-and-Child, or whatever, artwork.

That's not a whine, at all ... it's just that if one could do that easily, it might just be a way to come to a middle ground on this whole point. However, it would turn on the issue as to how the following should be interpreted:

There are PhotoStamp limits: no nudity, no controversial or politically partisan images and no copyrighted material.

It seems to me that there could, and perhaps should, be a way to sever the primary purpose of the USPS--delivery--from the design of the "icon" indicating confirmation of valid payment for that service (i.e., stamps). But in order for that to work, there'd have to be a reasonable "hands off" attitude about what people chose as their design.

What are the implications? Could a reasonable sense of "live and let live" be hereby achieved? Is this issue solely about what the USPS should be producing/offering as part of a pre-determined set of stamp options? Or is there something that those with tendencies more toward the farther sides of either end of the opinion spectrum don't want to discuss?

Like, far from trying to achieve a middle ground or reasonable compromise that accommodates all views, it's really about--if not trying to promote your own views--then at least squashing those of which you don't approve.

MaryGinder said...

Several years ago, while waiting in line at the Post Office, I overheard a man ranting about the Madonna Christmas stamp. I felt compelled to listen so that I could see why he was so upset. As I listened, it became apparent that he thought the stamp commemorated the Madonna who sang "LIKE a virgin", not the Madonna who WAS a virgin.
Yikes.

Jacques Cuze said...

Darleen says it's true, and that's good enough for Ann Althouse.

A search of google news for USPS and madonna shows only two sources for this: stoptheaclu.com and redstate.

A search of usps.com for madonna doesn't turn up anything either, except for offers to sell madonna stamps.

ATTENTION ANN: With this sort of dubious sourcing on your own part, how can you be an originalist? My understanding is that Darleen says that Madison wanted every house to have to quarter Ding Dongs and Twinkies, and that Adams wanted every second son named Esau.

Ann, do you have a better source for this?

Jacques Cuze said...

I can't let you alone for 8 hours to be with my kids and not be afraid you will go off and post something half-cocked.

Jebus, I type my fingers to the bone to keep you in check. To the bone.

Ann Althouse said...

Quxxo: When did I ever say I was an originalist?!

Jacques Cuze said...

You're not an originalist? An objectivist then? Oedipist?

Anyway, your fellow member of the blogspot karass, TBogg thinks it's nonsense too.

Jacques Cuze said...

Uh, oh, another member of your karass (although I suspect it is more granfalloon) Roger Ailes (the good one, not the evil one) thinks you're being duped.

Martin said...

Sorry, but Darlene's postal clerk was wrong.

According to this site, on October 31, 2006, you'll be able to buy a Madonna and Child stamp by Chacon.

The Virtual Stamp Club also says that a Chacon Madonna stamp will be available for next year's Christmas season.

The Scott Stamp Monthly also refers to "Christmas, Madonna and Child with Bird, by Ignacio Chacon" for 2006.

Honestly, before folks begin having debates about religious imagery on stamps or getting all hyperventilational about "P.C.," it's a wise idea to spend three minutes on Google. Blogs are supposed to be about not believing everything you read, let alone the rumors you hear from postal clerks.

Steven said...

Hmm. No nudity. Guess Rubens is out. Philistines.

Ann Althouse said...

Okay, I've added an update.

HaloJonesFan said...

I don't think that there would be a problem with the government offering Christian-themed stamps, as long as it's prepared to offer stamps for any religious group that submits a design and asks for a stamp to be released (and, presumably, coughs up the funding; it would surprise me to learn that these special issues aren't bankrolled by some sort of private concern.)

The question of whether the USPS is funded by taxes or by its own operation isn't really relevant, because it's perceived as an arm of the Federal Government.

HaloJonesFan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Darleen said...

I did offer my mom's story as an anecdote about what she was told, unsolicitied, over the counter, at her local PO. Not just about the stamps but about the "Happy Holiday" greeting in lieu of "Merry Christmas".

Via phone to USPS customer service I was unable to get a definitive answer on whether or not there WILL be religious stamps offered in the future.

A 2006 Madonna and Child design was presented in August to reporters at a Stamp show I have been unable to get a confirmation that the USPS is actually going to issue it next year.

Julie said...

No one seems be responding to my comment about the fact that there's supposedly an ability to make your own custom stamps

reader_iam, this might be an attractive option if the custom stamps cost anywhere near 37¢. Last time I checked, they cost $16.00 for a sheet of 20 -- OUCH! That's 84¢ a stamp. ;)

Gina Cobb said...

Related Post:

The Winter Holiday That Dare Not Speak Its Name
http://ginacobb.typepad.com/gina_cobb/2005/12/the_holiday_tha.html