Televangelist takes issue with Postal Service over mailing rates
A San Antonio televangelist says his First Amendment right to freely exercise his religion has been hampered by discriminatory actions by the U.S. Postal Service.
Pastor John Hagee filed a federal lawsuit this week alleging that the Postal Service's decision to deny his ministry a nonprofit postal rate subverts the separation of church and state and violates his rights to free speech and religion.
Hagee is represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, a national educational and legal firm dedicated to religious liberty causes.
Jim Henderson, senior counsel for the ACLJ, said that Hagee's ministry– which broadcasts a national television show and mails books, newsletters, brochures and taped messages–had been granted the lower nonprofit postal fee until early 1997.
Hagee alleges that in February 1997 postal service officials in Texas and Oklahoma began to read the content of his ministry's mailings and then decided certain mailings were not entitled to the lower nonprofit rates.
Henderson said that the ministry's newsletters and other mailings promoting a tour to Israel as well as advertisements for annual conventions were determined by the Postal Service not to be religious enough and therefore not eligible for the nonprofit mailing rate.
“We have to start from the fact that the John Hagee ministries mission is to establish evangelism and to build up and encourage believers,” Henderson said. “As a part of their practices they have annual conventions and seminars and tours to the Holy Land. The Israel tour includes visits to sacred sites. Postal service officials decided such mailings were not entitled to use of the nonprofit rates and that future similar mailings would not be eligible.”
Postal Service attorney Jeff Zelkowitz noted the nonprofit mailing rates are available only to those mailings that are specific to an organization's mission.
“We don't single out any organization,” said Zelkowitz. “Congress has set certain provisions about what type of organizations can mail at nonprofit rates. Even if it's an eligible organization, there are sets of restrictions of what can be mailed and cannot be mailed at nonprofit rates.”
Henderson, however, said Postal Service employees are constitutionally limited in deterring the mission of Hagaee's ministry.
“We have the Postal Service becoming entangled with the minister and whether those actions are related to the ministry,” he said. “Those actions are limited by the Establishment clause which prohibits government entanglement with religion.”
Hagee's suit requests the court to enjoin the Postal Service from reviewing Hagee's mailings and from applying a higher mailing rate to the ministry's mailings.