Mailer Blocked Twice For Nudity … But Not Again, USPS Says

Apparently you can add another item to the U.S. Postal Service’s famous “neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night …” slogan: nudity.

That comes after a U.S. Postal Service spokesman confirmed that mailings, such as the two postcards rejected by a New York post office for containing drawings of nude women, should not be refused.

The postcards were sent last month and in 2003 by the Washingtonville (NY) Art Society to promote an annual exhibit of nude paintings, drawings and sculpture. This year’s exhibit opened Feb. 1.

Last year, the society planned to mail postcards to the society’s members with a charcoal drawing of the back of a nude female. Society president Dani McIntosh said the postcards were returned by the postman, who “told me that we couldn’t mail [the postcards] this way because the buttocks were exposed,” she said.

As a result, McIntosh reprinted the invitations so they could be folded and sealed to hide the drawing.

This year, McIntosh wanted to promote the exhibit with a postcard featuring a painting of a nude woman sitting in profile by artist Bridget Herbst of Walden, NY. But she decided to check with the post office before printing the postcards.

“I took several samples … to the postal counter first to see what the postal service said before I did a big mailing,” McIntosh said. “But they said the breast is exposed and the buttock is exposed, and you can’t put something like that through the mail.”

Instead, McIntosh printed a postcard with a text image. “I didn’t want to do that because that’s not what this is about,” she said.

McIntosh said she took the postal clerk’s word at face value, but now says the post office was wrong to block the mailing.

“It was a postal clerk that did this,” she said. “The postmaster knows about the law, and if he had been there he would not have made the decision.”

A USPS spokesman said the local post office should have accepted both mailings.

“The postal service does not rule on written, printed or graphic material ahead of time,” USPS spokesman Jim Quirk said. Though there are standards on the content of mailings, “responsibility [for compliance] is on the person doing the mailing.”

The section of the Domestic Mail Manual covering objectionable content states: “[O]bscene, lewd, lascivious, or filthy publications or writings, or mail containing information on where, how, or from whom such matter may be obtained, and matter that is otherwise mailable but that has on its wrapper or envelope any indecent, lewd, lascivious, or obscene writing or printing, and any mail containing any filthy, vile, or indecent thing is nonmailable.”

But enforcement is only supposed to come after the piece is mailed and the postal service receives complaints from customers, Quirk said. If that happens, the postal service evaluates the piece to see whether it “rises to the level of the pertinent regulations.” However, he reiterated that the USPS is obligated to accept any type of mail for delivery, regardless of its content.

Fines can be issued if the piece is found to violate the section, with amounts varying depending on factors such as the seriousness of the violation and number of pieces mailed.

Despite the problems mailing, McIntosh said the society has 150 to 200 members, up from 50 last year. She said the society will try to mail a postcard with a nude painting to promote next year’s show.

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