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Is US Postal Policy in Gulf Region at Odds with Constitution? - 2003-04-27


The U.S. Postal Service is violating the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. At least that's the allegation of a man in North Carolina, who was told by postal officials there that he couldn't mail Christian literature to his son, a soldier stationed in the Persian Gulf. A postal policy implemented during the first Gulf War in 1991 is being challenged in court.

Jack Moody is a computer repairman in Lenoir, North Carolina. His son, Daniel, is a member of the Army National Guard and was sent to Kuwait last January. Jack Moody says several weeks ago, he received a letter from his son.

"He stated that he was reading his Bible, and it was giving him encouragement, and giving him strength to make it through the day. And my wife and I decided we would send him some Christian literature to kind of help fortify this," he said.

When Mr. Moody went to his local post office to mail some Christian comic books to his son, he was told he needed to fill out a customs form and reveal the contents of his package. Even though the package was being sent to a U.S. Army Post Office and would be handled by the Military Postal Service Agency, mail passing through that agency can be subject to host country customs requirements. And it was then that Jack Moody learned some Persian Gulf countries prohibit the importation of Christian materials, and therefore, the U.S. Postal Service won't knowingly ship these materials to the region.

"You know, when they told me that, I just couldn't believe it. My son is in the military, and he's overseas fighting to free this country from tyranny, and to protect our rights and our freedoms, and here our government has a rule on the books that's limited his freedom," he said. "It just… you know, flabbergasted, floored… I don't know how else to put it. You know, I just couldn't believe it. That's why I had the lady read it back to me twice."

What the lady was reading back to Jack Moody was a list of rules governing shipments to the five-digit zip code assigned to his son and the other members of his unit by the Military Postal Service Agency. That zip code will follow Daniel Moody, regardless of where he's stationed in the Persian Gulf. And because of that, the restrictions are designed to respect the customs regulations of all countries in the region.

Daniel Moody was initially sent to Kuwait, where Christian material is not prohibited. But it's possible he could end up in Saudi Arabia at some point, which is where American troops were stationed during the First Gulf War, when the postal restrictions were originally put into place. Christian literature is prohibited in Saudi Arabia. And according to Mark Saunders of the U.S. Postal Service, postal authorities here in America are bound to respect that.

"You know how the U.N. is to the world? There's a group called the Universal Postal Union that agreed to setting up requirements that respect the customs prohibitions of each country," he said. "And again, you know, the postal service is just reminding customers of the custom requirement."

But it's doing more than just reminding customers of the requirement. It's enforcing the requirement, according to John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute, an international civil liberties organization. The Rutherford Institute has filed a claim in federal court against the U.S. Postal Service, on behalf of Jack Moody and his son.

"The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects religious freedom and religious expression," said Mr. Whitehead. "And the U.S. Constitution follows our service people wherever they may go. And the question is always whether the United States Constitution should bow to countries that are intolerant."

Since the lawsuit was filed, the U.S. Postal Service has modified its regulations, so that only so-called "bulk mailings" of Christian literature are prohibited. Mark Saunders of the U.S. Postal Service says this modification should allow Jack Moody to send "a few" Christian comic books to his son. But, by Mr. Saunders own admission, the postal service doesn't have a solid definition of what constitutes a "bulk" mailing, and Jack Moody says he's still pursuing his case.

"If my son has five friends that are over there, and he says 'Dad, they're interested in this particular comic book,' if I send five sets of comic books to his friends, am I bulk mailing? What is bulk mailing?" he asks. "Bulk mailing can be anything over one. Why does my government have a problem with my mailing it in whatever quantity I want to mail it in?"

Jack Moody says he won't be satisfied until the restrictions against mailing any sort of religious material, Christian or otherwise, are removed entirely. The U.S. Postal Service has until May 2nd to respond to his complaint in court.

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