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Atheists Ask Ban On Postal Service’s Special Cancellation For Pope

August 25, 1987 GMT

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ The American Atheists asked a federal court Tuesday to stamp out Postal Service plans to offer special commemorative cancellations on mail in the cities Pope John Paul II will visit next month.

″The fancy canceling glorifies a religious symbol of a particular religious sect which is offensive to many citizens, including the plaintiffs, and does so with public funds and moneys, including taxes paid by the plaintiffs,″ the group said in a lawsuit filed in San Antonio.

The Postal Service plans to use a rubber stamp to cancel mail in each of the nine cities the Pope will visit. The stamp says, ″The Visit of Pope John Paul II″ and bears a papal emblem. It will be used only on the days the pope is in the city and only on request, not on all mail.

A Postal Service spokesman in Washington defended the papal postal plans.

″He is a world official. He’s a dignitary. We are not recognizing a religion. We are not endorsing ideals or policies of a particular religion. What we are doing is recognizing an event,″ said Steve Korker, a media relations official for the Postal Service, which offers special cancellations or cachets for up to 2,000 events a year.

American Atheists, founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, said the special cancellation is an improper use of public money for a religious purpose. It noted that the Postal Service has not offered similar special cancellations for visits of other foreign dignitaries.

″One particular religious sect leader cannot receive laudatory and special attention from government,″ said Jon Murray, leader of the atheist group. ″The Pope’s stated purpose for his visit is to ‘bring Christ to the United States,’ which is insulting to Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists and other Judeo-Christian sects who perceive that they have already done that.

″It is particularly noxious for American Atheists to be told that such nonsense is being imported, especially with the aid of U.S. taxpayer dollars,″ Murray added.

The lawsuit also alleges the special cancellation will ″involve considerable extra work-time hours″ for postal workers and will delay the mail.

The Pope’s visit begins Sept. 11 in Miami and concludes Sept. 19 in Detroit after stops in Columbia, S.C.; New Orleans; San Antonio; Phoenix, Ariz.; Los Angeles; Monterey, Calif., and San Francisco.