Canada Post and "Hate Mail"

There's a controversy going on in Canada after a union of postal workers in Vancouver refused to deliver a piece of mail they considered bigoted.

Unionized postal workers at an east Vancouver sub-station walked off the job Thursday morning, refusing to handle a publication called The Prophetic Word, published by the Ontario-based Fundamental Baptist mission. The protest was sparked by a headline on an article by Rev. Sterling Clark which stated that AIDS was "the consequences of the sin of homosexuality." Union spokesman Ken Mooney characterized the booklet as an anti-gay diatribe.

Yep, sounds bigoted to me. But I don't see why that's relevant here. People consider lots of things to be bigoted and offensive and if we allow the post office to decide what can and can't be delivered based on their feelings there's not much that would be safe. Imagine a group of Christian postal workers getting together and refusing to deliver Playboy subscriptions. Or newsletters from humanist groups. Or Walmart flyers, since the AFA now says Walmart is a big gay company. And so on, ad nauseum.

Imagine the opposite. Imagine a militant atheist who agrees with Richard Dawkins that teaching children religion is tantamount to child abuse and therefore refusing to deliver anything from religious groups that addresses children. No, I think we need to assert a basic principle here: your job as a postal worker is to deliver the mail. Note the absence of the phrase "that you approve of" from the end of that sentence.

And this isn't like a situation with, say, a large pharmacy, where if one person objects to filling a birth control prescription another pharmacist can handle that customer instead. This requires a complete reworking of the process in order to deliver that mail, they have to send out people to cover entire routes just to deliver that one item. And in the US, it would be unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination. As it should be.

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"And this isn't like a situation with, say, a large pharmacy, where if one person objects to filling a birth control prescription another pharmacist can handle that customer instead."

Of course, this does only apply to *large* pharmacies. In a small pharmacy, possibly the only pharmacy in a small town, the damage done by a rogue pharmacist who thinks he has the right to decide what medicine is permissible is much, much higher than the damage done by a rogue postal worker not delivering one more piece of junk mail. Not saying that either is right, but I am much more disturbed by the possibility of being denied prescribed medication than by the possibility of not getting some mass-mailed tracts.

By MJ Memphis (not verified) on 03 Nov 2006 #permalink

During the lynching era in the United States it was common to turn photographs of lynchings into postcards. Often local citizenry posed with the victims, as if posed next to a trophy deer. These post-cards were commonly sold and mailed, sometimes with little arrows on the front pointing out where "uncle Bob" or whomever could be seen proudly pointing to his handiwork. In others, there were panoramas of large crowds, (men, women, and children) who had gathered for the big event. By some accounts, these postcards were so popular that they literally jammed up the postal system in the US.

Would postal workers have been justified in refusing to deliver these postcards? I think they would. There might be consequences, they might get fired, because after all, the post-cards were "legal." But I think that nevertheless, had postal employees revolted at these abominable pieces of mail, we would consider them heroic, or at least I would. Indeed, I think this would be one of those places where obeying the law might well be the immoral act.

Now, do I think that in the case above that the postal employees are justified? Probably not, but I think the analogy here is more relevant than the phamacy example. Moreover, I don't think its as simple as Ed's original post makes it seem.

Best,

Dave

One of my constant irritants as a teacher is that my students think that if something is offensive it is bad. In my experience in the U.S., it is most often my conservative students and more precisely, my religious students. They argue that being exposed to ideas they don't like (usually about homosexuality or evolution) is not only offensive, but a violation of their freedom of religion and of speech. They completely misunderstand the basic principle of democracy, that harm means your rights are actually infringed, and that offense does not constitute harm. [They also don't understand deliberation or argument, but that's another issue.]

This is basic J.S. Mills, and can be traced back to 18th century democratic theory. It is irritating in the extreme that in our more liberal democracies, namely the U.K. and Canada, it's the people on the left making the same profound mistake about democracy.

The union could've chosen to issue public statements or held a protest of the tract *and* delivered the damn thing. It would've given their point of view a lot of press and got people talking just as much without the squelching of free speech.

My understanding is that, technically, lynchings were illegal, even in the deep South. Had The Prophetic Word been directly advocating violence, then I think the analogy to postal workers refusing to deliver photos of lynchings (or snuff porn photos or "bring the dynamite and poison gas to the subway" party invitations) would be more justified.

As it is, I side with Ed. We already agree that "Freedom of Speech" and expression does not include inciting mob violence -- and that might include spreading photos of illegal acts. Saying that gays are sinful and AIDs is their divine punishment isn't a direct call to action -- it's just a real nasty form of gloating.

Dave-

The obvious difference is that those postcards were actually evidence in a murder case and should have been turned over to the police rather than delivered.

Dave, that's interesting. Although I've lived in the deep South all my life, I've never heard such postcards "jammed up the postal system." Do you have a reference where I could read more and perhaps see reproductions?

Julia,

It was from an essay by Peter Ehrenhaus and A. Susan Owen, but I don't have the title cite right now. To be honest, I can't recall if it was a convention paper or in a published essay, they have both.

Sastra and Ed,

While lychings were indeed de jure illegal. They were in practice not. The fact that these post-cards could be so widely disseminated is evidence that the atrocities portrayed were not considered--by all powers that were, including law enforcement, judges, prosecutors, and white citizens who would make up the jury pool--in violation of any enforcable law.

The suggestion that they "should" have been turned over as "evidence" when they were mass-produced--which negates any suggestion that there would be unique evidencial value to each postcard--fails to admit the fact that the culture did not view them as objectionable. Indeed, if my memory serves me correctly, the eventual demise of the post-cards had more to do with their burden on the postal service than on moral objections from those who encountered these images.

The Canadian example isn't the same (it's why ALL analogies are necessarily false) but as I said before, just condemning the postal workers for not respecting the law isn't as clear cut as we often want to make it.

Todd,

Of course, offensive doesn't mean bad. But by the same token, legal doesn't always equal good (or right) either.

Although I've lived in the deep South all my life, I've never heard such postcards "jammed up the postal system." Do you have a reference where I could read more and perhaps see reproductions?

That's because the time period when these postcards were popular was between the 1890s and 1930s. Here are some references:

http://www.americanlynching.com/
http://www.liu.edu/cwis/cwp/library/african/2000/lynching.htm
http://www.withoutsanctuary.org

Dave-

I don't care what the culture said, I care what the law said. The law said that what happened there was murder and this was specific evidence of who perpetrated specific murders. Not only should the post office not have to deliver such cards, they should not be allowed to deliver them at all. They should be turned over to the FBI. It just is not an analogous situation.

Dave, Oracc, thanks much for the references. I knew about the postcards, but had never heard they created a postal system problem.

It seems to me that if the postal system refuses to deliver such mailings without the legal backing Ed so rightly says they should have had, the evil is just being covered up. In the Canadian case, freedom of speech also acts to make the public aware of what is going on. What we can hear should never be determined by the personal opinions of individuals such as the postal workers.

I think we can agree that the postal workers would be right to detain any material portraying something illegal, such as lynching postcards or child porn (to use a modern example). The problem is that the Canadian dumb-ass hate crime law does make such bigotted pamphlets illegal. At least, it allows the postal workers the possibility to claim such material is illegal (in their opinion) under existing law, which is why they confiscated it.

To me, the totally screwed-up hate-crime laws in this country are where the real problem lies.

Of course it's not like a pharmacy, because with the post office your only have one delivery person and no piece of mail can be going to more than one address.

Why, your speech is completely shut off.

Dave S-

I agree with you there. I am opposed to all "hate speech" codes and would like to see them declared unconstitutional at public universities (the one place you can find them in the US). Two Federal courts have declared them unconstitutional, one in Michigan and one in Wisconsin, but the decisions were not appealed so no broader precedent was set.

The odd thing is that the lynching postcards are exactly on point here. From the mid-1880s through 1913, the entire post office apparatus in most southern cities was black (rural areas were always all-white). This was ended when Wilson ordered almost all black Federal employees to be fired. So the postcards were not just of objectionable content, they were specifically objectionable to the people who had to handle and deliver them. Which they did, apparently without a word of complaint.

The USPS being a quasi-governmental entity, this case would raise establishment and free exercise issues if it happened here.

I am having difficulty finding anything that supports the suggestion that lynching postcards "were so popular that they literally jammed up the postal system in the US." Here is what Wikipedia has to say about them:

It was common for postcards to be sold depicting lynchings, typically allowing a newspaper photographer to make some extra money. These postcards became popular enough to be an embarrassment to the government, and the postmaster officially banned them in 1908. However, the lynching postcards continued to exist through the 1930s.

I agree with you there. I am opposed to all "hate speech" codes and would like to see them declared unconstitutional at public universities (the one place you can find them in the US).

Me too. Even though I'm known for my vociferous debunking of Holocaust deniers, I do not think that deniers should be thrown in jail (as David Irving was in Austria).

Ed said:

"I don't care what the culture said, I care what the law said. The law said that what happened there was murder and this was specific evidence of who perpetrated specific murders. Not only should the post office not have to deliver such cards, they should not be allowed to deliver them at all. They should be turned over to the FBI. It just is not an analogous situation."

All of them? The entirety of duplicated, mass-produced photographs were each individually a unique piece of evidence? C'mon Ed, following that logic Bugliosi couldn't sell copies of Helter Skelter and just about every newspaper in America that published pics of My Lai should have been subject to prior restraint...well, they might be under the current administration.

See, that's the problem, these kinds of situations are difficult when we try to cookie cutter even the most egregious examples.

Best,

Dave

(Lettuce)
The speech is not completely shut off by your account.

Of course it's not like a pharmacy, because with the post office your only have one delivery person and no piece of mail can be going to more than one address.
Why, your speech is completely shut off.

The contentious mail is a special kind of mail named by Canada Post as Admail. One more particular is that this booklet is further classified as Unaddressed Admail, drawing your attention to the Unaddressed part of the classification. No address means it can go to anyone of a targeted area or anyone along a particular route to be specified. I believe that Canada post can even help with demographics to assist in finding the area best suited to the clients needs.

Get the dope on Admail from Canada Post:
http://www.canadapost.ca/tools/pg/preparation/MPPUAdmail-e.pdf

Admail is short for Advertisement mail. Canada Post's Commercial Service Network is in control of the Admail wing of their operations. I'll assume Admail is the cash cow of Canada Post. This particular brand of mail is delivered by Unaddressed Admail service deliverers. What I can't find is whether there is a division of respect between Addressed Mail and Unaddressed Admail. I figure that the commercial attributes of a contract may define if it is right or not. The Unaddressed properties may be the chink in the armour.
(end Lettuce) (not literally of course)

(A little digging)
This booklet was sent from Ontario all the way to a suburb in East Vancouver. 200 in total. It appears to be nothing more than a test on how the system works and what stumbling blocks stand in the way.

I'm sure the Fundamental Baptist Missions International is searching all over the net looking for plausible arguments against their little test. Hi there! The Waterford Ontario based Fundamental Baptist Mission that sent the booklets are associated with the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana working through the outreach program, Fundamental Baptist Missions International.

So the Southern Baptists have reached Canada. Just great. The SBC that reprimanded Clinton for his criticism of violent attacks against homosexuals is now sending their messages of intolerance through Canada Post. Canada. A place where controversy is generally handled through rational debate on secular terms. Religion in the States is much stronger willed and outspoken than religion you'll find up here. Now that the SBC is here, this will change. I guess it couldn't last for ever.
(end digging)

(Start Rant)
This booklet some would call Free Speech. I call it historical oppression being reignited. Will Canada have to experience a Matthew Shepard, (with Phelps presiding at the funeral) of its own before people wake up to what is happening?

The Criminal Code of Canada sets out a list of defences under which people can fight a charge of promotion of hatred which includes:
*expressing or attempting to establish an argument based on a religious opinion
This amounts to the rights to freedom of speech+. How come I don't get this +. Is it because I'm an atheist and don't deserve the equal treatment?

That get out of jail free card has no business being in there and it will be challenged very soon in light of the U.S. brand of religion jumping the border.

In the mean time, any Canadian can stop Unaddressed Admail and Flyers by affixing a note on there mail box for the mail carrier to obey:

Stop All Unaddressed Admail and Flyers From Being Delivered To This Mail Box

If after you post the note you still get unaddressed mail at any time, call the post office and ask for the Post Master. Ask to have the Unaddressed Admail removed.

I was instructed by a Post Master on how to stop this unwanted brand of mail.
(end rant)

If homosexuality is proven immutable, would this booklet not be akin to racism by a mutable group?

By Gene Goldring (not verified) on 03 Nov 2006 #permalink