the church operate(d) ... contract postal unit in Manchester, Conn. Community residents objected to the religious advertisements and pamphlets, prayer cards, ministry videos, a donation box and other religious items displayed in the same space where the post office is maintained.Putting it mildly. Americans United Friday (8/21) issued the following statement, praising the Circuit Court for its decision.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State today commended a federal appeals court decision requiring a church to separate its religious outreach from the activities at a church-run postal unit.On one level, putting the station in a church building makes some sense in a rural, relatively undeveloped area, because the church in such a place is highly unlikely to change hands or go under. I imagine the church also hosts a (the?) polling station, as well, for the same reason. Which also raises separation questions...
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Full Gospel Interdenominational Church must separate its preaching and proselytizing from the work it does on a contract basis for the U.S. Postal Service.
Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, “Americans look to houses of worship if they need religious counsel, not post offices. We expect Uncle Sam, and those he contracts with, to deliver the mail, not preach or pass the plate.”
In the dispute in question, the church operates a contract postal unit in Manchester, Conn. Community residents objected to the religious advertisements and pamphlets, prayer cards, ministry videos, a donation box and other religious items displayed in the same space where the post office is maintained.
The residents sued, represented by the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union Foundation, and a federal district court ruled in Cooper’s favor.
The appeals court has now done so as well, requiring the church to clear its postal counter of religious materials and divide the church’s private property from the space used as a post office.
Said Americans United Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J. Luchenitser, “This decision upholds the important constitutional principle that religious proselytizing must not be injected into the delivery of public services.”
Americans United filed a brief in the Cooper v. U.S. Postal Service case on the residents’ behalf in October 2008. The brief was joined by the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Social Policy Action Network.
“When the state contracts with a private entity to fulfill a governmental obligation in the government’s name and under the government’s banner, the state has a special burden to ensure that its power and identity are not used to advance constitutionally impermissible purposes,” said the AU brief.
The brief was drafted pro bono by attorney Murad Hussain, who was then with the national law firm Arnold & Porter LLP, in consultation with Arnold & Porter attorney Ronald L. Johnston, AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, and Luchenitser.
According to media reports, there are some 5,000 contract postal units around the country, serving small communities where the U.S. Postal Service does not find a full-time post office financially viable.