October 2009 Church & State | People & Events

A church-owned store in Connecticut must separate its preaching and proselytizing from the work it does on a contract basis for the U.S. Postal Service, a federal appeals court has ruled.


The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Aug. 20 that the Full Gospel Interdenominational Church has no right to include proselytizing material in the same space where a small post office is maintained


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 area of the post office.


Resident Bertram Cooper sued, represented by the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union Foundation.


A federal district court ruled in Cooper’s favor, and the appeals court has now done so as well. The ruling requires 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.


Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court 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.


In its ruling, the unanimous court decreed, “[B]y way of remedy, we require that the postal counter be free of religious material, and that visual cues distinguish the space operating as a postal facility from the space functioning as the private property of the Church.”


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.


Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, welcomed the ruling. “Americans look to houses of worship if they need religious counsel, not post offices,” Lynn said. “We expect Uncle Sam, and those he contracts with, to deliver the mail, not preach or pass the plate.”