Atheists outraged over a stamp honoring Mother Teresa

posted at 1:13 pm on January 31, 2010 by Cassy Fiano

Mother Teresa was a woman universally beloved across the globe for her humanitarian efforts in India and around the world. Her work with the poor and the dying, the disabled and disadvantaged, with refugees, and so on earned her the Nobel Peace Prize (an honor that was actually earned, imagine that) in 1979. So when the United States Postal Service decided to honor her life with a commemorative stamp, most people were happy. But of course, since a Christian is being honored, a group of atheists are outrageously outraged and want the Post Office to cancel the stamp.

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.

The stamp — set to be released on Aug. 26, which would have been Mother Teresa’s 100th birthday — will recognize the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize winner for her humanitarian work, the Postal Service announced last month.

“Noted for her compassion toward the poor and suffering, Mother Teresa, a diminutive Roman Catholic nun and honorary U.S. citizen, served the sick and destitute of India and the world for nearly 50 years,” the Postal Service said in a press release. “Her humility and compassion, as well as her respect for the innate worth and dignity of humankind, inspired people of all ages and backgrounds to work on behalf of the world’s poorest populations.”

But Freedom from Religion Foundation spokeswoman Annie Laurie Gaylor says issuing the stamp runs against Postal Service regulations.

“Mother Teresa is principally known as a religious figure who ran a religious institution. You can’t really separate her being a nun and being a Roman Catholic from everything she did,” Gaylor told

Postal Service spokesman Roy Betts expressed surprise at the protest, given the long list of previous honorees with strong religious backgrounds, including Malcolm X, the former chief spokesman for the Nation of Islam, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister and co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

“In fact we honored Father Flanagan in 1986 for his humanitarian work. This has nothing to do with religion or faith,” Betts told

Gaylor said the atheist group opposed Father Flanagan’s stamp but not those for King and Malcolm X, because she said they were known for their civil rights activities, not for their religion.

Martin Luther King “just happened to be a minister,” and “Malcolm X was not principally known for being a religious figure,” she said.

“And he’s not called Father Malcolm X like Mother Teresa. I mean, even her name is a Roman Catholic honorific.”

The “darker side of Mother Teresa”? Really?

And it seems to me that they’re kind of picking and choosing who they’re outraged over, aren’t they? Martin Luther King Jr. was just as well-known a Christian as Mother Teresa was a Catholic. I doubt Martin Luther King thought he “just happened to be a minister”.

What difference does it make if someone who is being honored for their good works was a Catholic nun or not anyways? Being a Catholic nun or a Christian leader is not something you can separate those two people from. Is the argument then that you cannot honor a good person who did amazing things for their entire lifetime simply because they were Christian? Gaylor also attacked Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, saying it was a “wealthy” charity, and that she — shockingly! — was against abortion and wanted to baptize people before they died. She says this is part of the Roman Catholic Church’s “PR machine” to make Mother Teresa a saint. Because, you know, canonization as a saint always involves shadowy conspiracies with the USPS.

I know it’s tough to understand for some people, but Christians tend to be… anti-abortion, and they want people to be baptized and accept Christ as their savior. They have this whole thing about not wanting people to go to hell, as crazy a concept as that might be.

And her charity did indeed massively expand over the course of her lifetime. At the time of her death, 610 missions were operating in 123 countries. The work being done at these missions included: hospices, homes for people suffering from diseases such as leprosy and HIV/AIDS, caring for the disabled, alcoholics, refugees, victims of natural disasters, the poor and the blind, soup kitchens, orphanages, and so on. But I guess because she was, after all, first and foremost a Catholic nun who didn’t struggle with her mission of humanitarian relief in a little hut on the side of some road in Calcutta, we should completely ignore all the good she was able to do. She was successful in helping thousands upon thousands of people around the world, but because she was Catholic, all of that should just be ignored? To the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a better person to look up to (and whose stamp we should all buy) is Katharine Hepburn… an actress and an atheist.

The USPS spokesman Roy Betts has said that the reaction to the Mother Teresa stamp has so far been overwhelmingly positive. Most people love and respect her because of all she did for so many others. So, to sum up, the FFRF wants to keep her from being honored — despite her good works and humanitarian efforts — simply because she was a Catholic nun, even though the majority of people seem to be unoffended. It seems pretty obvious to me that this is a gross overreaction, and an immature one at that. But let’s not underestimate their efforts or anything. They’re starting a letter-writing campaign… and that will surely teach the Post Office a lesson.

Cross-posted from Cassy’s blog. Stop by for more original commentary, or follow her on Twitter!

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