Pagan Books Stolen from Mail, Replaced by Hymnal

Cara Schulz —  September 15, 2015 — 65 Comments

DILLSBORO, NC – Giovanna Sforza knew something was wrong when she picked up several of her boxes from the U.S. Post Office.

[Photo Credit: Wikimedia / user: Coolcaesar ]

[Photo Credit: Wikimedia / user: Coolcaesar ]

“Six of the eight boxes of books were damaged badly. They had been ripped open along entire sides of the box and the contents obviously had been exposed and put back in the boxes and taped back together by the post office. When I received some of the boxes, there were still entire sides wide open,” said Sforza.

When she opened the boxes to check the contents, she noticed around 20 books, covering a range of Pagan topics, were missing. Even more curious, a Baptist hymnal was put in their place.

Sforza had been visiting her mother in Arizona for a year. After that length of time, she found that she had accumulated far more items than she could fit in her car for the trek back to North Carolina. Sforza went to the post office in Chandler, Arizona to learn the best way to ship books. The clerk recommended buying book boxes from U Haul and mailing those boxes at the USPS book rate. Sforza followed the directions, insured the boxes for $300, and mailed them. Then, she set off for North Carolina.

When she finally arrived, Sforza went to pick up her boxes at the local post office. They were clearly damaged, which she immediately noted to the clerk. She also took photographs of the damaged boxes right when she took possession. Then, Sforza took the boxes home to open them.

Upon checking the contents against a list made in Arizona, Sforza quickly realized that just the books that appeared to have Pagan topics had been stolen, and a brand new Baptist hymnal had been placed in one of the boxes before it was resealed. She immediately called the post office to report the theft.

[Courtesy Photos]

[Courtesy Photos]

Sforza believes the theft of her books, and the addition of the hymnal, could only have been done by postal employees. She theorized, “Somewhere along the postal route, while in federal Postal Service custody, a box or more broke open, a federal postal employee saw the contents, removed my books, and placed a hymnal inside in their place. Apparently they felt I needed to be singing the praises of Jesus. I do not know how else this could have happened. I am really shocked, because I would presume, that there are cameras at these places?”

She also said that she is surprised a federal employee would risk a possible jail sentence of 5 years in prison and up to a $5000 fine just to make a point.

When Sforza called the post office to explain what had happened, she got little in the way of help. “The woman on the phone sounded like she couldn’t care less. Didn’t sound surprised, was not outraged or apologetic. She just told me to go online and file a claim. Nothing she could do about it,” she said.

Sforza has filed a claim with the post office and plans to file federal charges. The Wild Hunt will update this story as more information becomes available. Both the Dillsboro and the Chandler post offices did not respond to requests for comment at time of publication.

Cara Schulz

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Cara Schulz is a journalist and author living in Minnesota with her husband and cat. She has previously written for PAGAN+politics, PNC-Minnesota, and Patheos. Her work has appeared in several books by Bibliotheca Alexandrina and she's the author of Martinis & Marshmallows: A Field Guide to Luxury Tent Camping and (Almost) Foolproof Mead Making. She loves red wine, camping, and has no tattoos.
  • These people must be incredibly delusional if they think that anyone in the entire history of the world has ever felt anything but boredom listening to a Protestant hymn.

    • disqus_FG1o3Knu92

      If you think it’s wrong to slam Paganism, why do you think it’s OK to slam someone else’s faith? I wouldn’t ask you to abandon your faith and follow mine, but I would ask you not to dismiss my faith, especially if you’d like the same courtesy from me.

      • woodrobin

        Saying Protestant hymns are boring is not slamming Protestantism. At worst it’s mocking it a bit. And, to be fair, my personal experience of boredom with Protestant hymns probably had quite a bit to do with being forced to attend a church I had no real faith or emotional investment in. So it is, certainly, a subjective opinion.

        And personally, I would not expect nor ask someone else not to dismiss the validity of my faith. I could care less whether they think my faith is ‘valid’ or ‘real’ or has merit, so long as they treat me as an equal citizen under the law and generally mind their own business. Their beliefs do not concern me; their actions do.

        As Thomas Jefferson said, “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

        Regardless, a bit of gentle mockery is in no way comparable to vandalism and theft in the service of proselytism.

        • kenofken

          The whole scheme deserves mockery even if you’re an evangelical who believes it’s your job to hustle converts. A hymnal is a really odd and poor choice of proselytizing material, which leads me to believe it was an impulse thing which used whatever Christian material was at hand, either elsewhere in the mail stream or perhaps a personal copy owned by a postal worker who also happened to be in a church choir or something. Traditional Christian worship music is really only meaningful to someone who already gets the back story of the Bible and whatever denomination the music inspires. Even if you’re on board with the religion, most of the hymmnal music (with the probably exception of Handel) is just not all that rousing to the modern ear. Just the lyrics on paper is about at interesting as watching copper tarnish.

      • joshuaism

        Even Christians agree Protestant hymns blow. Hence the push for more contemporary worship services with guitar lead bands. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contemporary_worship_music

      • Friday

        Good chance any given Pagan has in fact been expected to participate in one Christian sect or another, exactly because they demanded we follow Christian faith. Which kind of goes back to the crime in question here, doesn’t it?

        (Therefore, not exactly out of line to critique particular music one was forced to listen to, you know, not that I’d generally trouble to. 🙂 )

    • Depends on the hymn!

  • Bill Hawke

    If there’s a list of missing volumes, perhaps the community might contribute towards making up the loss?

    • Erma M Hazel

      Since she insured the boxes, she will be reimbursed. What she should have also done was take the box(es and Hymnal book to the police department. There is a good chance that the person who did this did not wear gloves.

      • Usacotts

        Unfortunately, theft is generally a low priority for the police, so I doubt they would actually investigate this in any meaningful sense. In my experience, they would let Sforza file a report to shut her up, and then not act on it at all. I’ve even heard of cases where the police refused to take action until the victim could provide them with the thief’s full name, face, and current address. (The British police apparently explicitly encourage theft victims to do the entire investigation themselves.) This sounds harsh, but police departments don’t have unlimited resources — and from the cops’ perspective, retrieving some insured books is just not as urgent as, say, fighting the drug trade, or catching murderers, or many other important jobs that they must do. (Also, the perp may well have been wearing gloves — many post offices are still leery of opening things without skin protection, after, you know, that whole anthrax thing.)
        This was absolutely terrible for Sforza as well as a federal offense, but practically speaking, the best we can hope for is that the thief will have a change of heart and turn themselves in.

        • Ms ShaSha

          This goes beyond simple theft though as tampering with mail is a federal offense, as you stated as well. Honestly, given the difference of religion and this going beyond theft with them replacing the books with that of another religion, they may even include “hate crime” in the report. The police in this case HAVE to do more than simply filling a report, and finger prints are more than possible (and rather easily obtained).

          • Usacotts

            I’m from South Carolina rather than North, but I have friends and relatives there, and I am not certain that the police would be that sympathetic. Now, if things were reversed and a Christian hymnal were stolen and replaced with a Pagan book, then sure, they would certainly behave as you say — they would treat it as a hate crime and take it seriously, and it’d probably be all over the TV news. But otherwise, well, they’d probably react the same way as the post office employee described in the article.
            To be fair, it does come down to which officer she happened to speak to, to some degree; some officers might well actually care, but others would probably secretly think the thief did the right thing. And in the Carolinas I think more would fall into the latter category.
            (The attitude “but authorities HAVE to treat us fairly!” is something I’ve had to un-learn over the course of turning out to belong to religious, gender, and sexual minority groups. It’s true that in an ideal and perfect world, they would, but that doesn’t mean they actually will, and expecting them to is unwise.)

          • Ms ShaSha

            I completely agree, but I also personally wouldn’t stop pushing the matter should the local authorities attempt to overlook things. This article helps, reaching out to others through social media – reporting to larger news sources and especially to corporate offices of the USPS. With enough pressure applied they would HAVE to do something, even if their hope is that the matter would just get dropped and go away. A lot of people don’t care any more, which is sad.. and also why some times they have to be made to act like they care, even if they don’t.

            Regardless of their personal feelings on the matter and/or the content, a package was mishandled, opened, damaged and altered all while in USPS care – not only is it illegal on a federal level (which is taken much more seriously), that also looks extremely bad for the USPS – who is still a business that wants their customers to trust them and their ability to get the job done. (There are other means and shipping and things that they’re in competition with.)

          • Angel Satarose

            Yep it’s more of a hate crime, because it’s discrimination of another religion.

        • John Galt

          The post office has its own police force (Postal Inspectors) and they don’t play around.

          • Friday

            If nothing else, chances are whoever looked in *there* is also looking through other things and obviously doesn’t mind stealing.

          • randomfactor

            Exactly right. It’s a matter for THEM.

      • Deb N

        She may be “reimbursed” for the cover price, but if she has been collecting for several years, many of the titles may no longer be available. I have many books that are no longer in print, and many of them have irreplaceable notes. That’s all on top of the violation of having your personal mail examined by someone with an holier-than-thou ulterior motive.

        • Brandon O’Bryant

          There’s also the unfortunate fact that when the postal service reimburses you they judge the value based on the lowest value they can find. Valuable editions of books or rare printings don’t factor into their equations.

          My grandfather sent me several books he had collected in his life that mysteriously vanished before ever getting to me and USPS would only replace them with recent printings- among the collection was first edition set of the Chronicles of Narnia that he’d read to my mother and aunts. USPS could understand why the most recent copy of the books wasn’t an acceptable way to determine value.

      • Jim Jones

        Postal inspectors, not police.

      • Bianca Bradley

        The police would have told her to call the post office number. It’s not in their jurisdiction but a federal one. This is why we have postal inspectors.

    • Windstrm99

      I was thinking the same thing. People in the community could help her replace any hard to find books that were taken.

  • DverWinter

    I know that they are actually allowed to open Media Mail (book rate) packages, to ensure that they meet the standards (only printed material, no personal correspondence, etc.). I wonder if that’s what started this. I hope she takes this to the local press as well as filing charges. If she can get the community just as outraged (at the very least, because it’s now obvious that no one’s personal belongings are safe in the hands of their postal employees), maybe it will get resolved quicker.

    • Erma M Hazel

      They can but there should have been a note or tape stating that the box was inspected, opened, etc. I sell crafts online and many people have had issues with their local PO opening their mail, losing their mail or “oops, we accidentally opened the package but made sure all contents were there”, which they were in fact missing. I have had two packages delivered damaged as if someone stepped on them. After that, i started insuring them. Strangely, i have not had this happen since.

    • Deb N

      When the USPS opens your mail to examine it (I’ve had this happen), they do it carefully, neatly and you get notified. Only certain employees are trained and authorized to do that. If they remove anything or find it doesn’t meet standards, you have to go pick it up at the post office. This sounds very much like someone who knew what was in her boxes and didn’t approve of her reading choices. Federal offense, even for a postal employee.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    I hope Sforza pursues the USPS vigorously. This is an outrage, and the people in DC need to make sure the people handling the mail know they must meet Federal standards, including the First Amendment. Otherwise they might all as well be Kim Davis.

  • Taffy Dugan

    What happened to “Thou shalt not steal”?

    • Gus diZerega

      Hypocrisy has long been a defining trait of Southern Baptists. Its origins are in defending slavery as divinely commanded.

      • GilGordon

        Hypocrisy has long been a defining trait of most if not all Christian sects, not just the Southern Baptists…or have we forgotten the Catholic churches defense of its pedophile priests?

      • Actually , Slavery is not Hypocritical, it’s in there:

        However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)

        When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again. But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners, since he is the one who broke the contract with her. And if the slave girl’s owner arranges for her to marry his son, he may no longer treat her as a slave girl, but he must treat her as his daughter. If he himself marries her and then takes another wife, he may not reduce her food or clothing or fail to sleep with her as his wife. If he fails in any of these three ways, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment. (Exodus 21:7-11 NLT)

        The servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it. “But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly. Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given.” (Luke 12:47-48 NLT)

        • Gus diZerega

          Point taken and thanks for taking the time to write these out. I was thinking of how ‘fundamentalists’ of all sorts claim to take their scriptures literally and then ignore anything that is telling them to be kind and that the Southern Baptists took passages like this literally but not the passages telling them to give to the poor, forgive others, etc.

        • B.E. Miller

          Thanks for posting that. I know that there are two different sets of rules for slaves among the Israelites, differing according to the ‘race’ of the slave.

          This is also one (of many) passages that are used to excuse racism. Because obviously God must be okay with it. (sarcasm).

          Lot of racism or tribalism in that chapter.

          • Bianca Bradley

            ACtually in Judaism you are only allowed to keep slaves for a certain time period. Apparently 6 years. Those rules are only for hebrew slaves.

            The romans discouraged and made laws, how many slaves you could release also. See netflix secrets of the Bible, they covered this.

  • Daniel FitzGerald

    These are the folks Sforza needs to talk to. From what I’ve heard, they take
    their jobs very seriously and wouldn’t find this hymnal business amusing
    at all: https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/

    • kenofken

      They should start working channels like this and far above the local post office. Write up these complaints formally, send them by registered mail so there’s no issue of who received what, and cc the higher-ups in the postal inspectors, the local congressional offices etc. When they know there are plenty of eyes and a paper trail, something will get done. It may not lead to an arrest or anything dramatic, but an inquiry will be opened, and if it was a theft or tampering, someone’s going to sweat.

  • Segomâros Widugeni

    The postal employee who did this needs to go to jail. It’s mail tampering, arguably with hate as a motive. A hate crime? Maybe. But I predict, in this increasingly fundie cultural climate, that nothing will be done.

    • Friday

      They’ll claim they’re ‘reverse oppressed’ if they can’t censor, steal from, and invade others’ mail.

  • PJ Graham

    What jack rhinos! I hope they find the person responsible and charge them accordingly.

    • Jack rhinos–now that’s an expression I’ve never heard, but I like it.

  • jerryc48134

    She should contact the Lady Liberty League for help

  • Ms ShaSha

    This is so troublesome. Please do keep us posted on the outcome… and I hope she keeps pushing and doesn’t let this go. SOMEONE did this, and it sure sounds like a postal employee (and they do, or at least should, have camera at ALL locations – federal buildings have to).

  • Charles Cosimano

    Forgive me if I seem skeptical but this whole story raises a number of red flags. Postal workers tend to be a busy lot, with much too much to do than remove books from a package and replace them with hymnals. If this happened to one person it would no doubt have happened to others. Why have they not been heard from?

    It could be true. Odd and unpleasant things happen all the time, but do not be surprised if the postal inspectors are doubtful.

    • MadGastronomer

      And yet, there absolutely have been cases of postal workers stealing mail or stealing from packages. Look it up. It is a real thing that happens.

      I agree with several other commenters; the most likely scenario is that one box broke open, someone saw the content and protested, and the rest happened.

  • g75401

    Reminds me of early xtians desecrating Roman shrines….

    • B.E. Miller

      Not just Roman shrines, but Aztec shrines and books, and I believe some Mayan books got burned as well. And don’t forget the Incans as well.

  • Michael J. Simmons

    I am willing to guess, that the boxes broke open in transit. Than sone one seeing the books in question took them and replaced them w/ the hymnal. Sad, but I don’t think it was deliberate damage to open the boxes. Her best course is to file a claim through USPS and then keep on them.

    • Whether the opening was deliberate or not makes little difference–it’s what happened next. I think, too, that the boxes broke in transit. However, a clerk is supposed to but a label on the container saying so, or to put it in a sturdier container so that it isn’t damaged further.

  • Matt Stone

    Speaking as a Christian, that’s wrong in so many ways

    • kenofken

      One of those ways is legal. Theft of mail from the USPS is good for up to 5 years of federal time and fines of up to $250,000.

  • that-user-name-is-taken

    I’m not trying to discount the incident, but one possible explanation is that one of the mail sorting machines may have malfunctioned and damaged a number of boxes, including one sent by a different customer who happened to be sending someone a hymn book. Is it possible that it is merely a case of a postal employee grabbing a book that appeared to have fallen out of a particular box, jamming it back in, taping it up, and sending it on its way? I know that when an automatic parcel handling machine malfunctions, it isn’t uncommon for numerous boxes in a row to get damaged. I travel a lot, and often buy books, read them, and then mail them home to my residence instead of carrying them around in my luggage for months and months, and I have received damaged parcels numerous times, and once got a box that had been torn open and re-taped that had several other envelopes addressed to other people jammed inside the box.

    • MadGastronomer

      Twenty specifically pagan books were missing, and only one stray book that just happened to be from a denomination that has members who like to harass pagans. Um. If it was two missing books and some other random book, then maybe, but that sounds unlikely.

  • wolftimber

    “When Sforza called the post office to explain what had happened, she got
    little in the way of help. “The woman on the phone sounded like she
    couldn’t care less. Didn’t sound surprised, was not outraged or
    apologetic. She just told me to go online and file a claim. Nothing she
    could do about it,” she said.”

    That’s because SHE was probably the idiot who did the book switch!

    • Bianca Bradley

      Umm Customer service at an 800 number not in the same state as Sforza probably did not do the book switch.

  • yvonne

    They really should get some fingerprints, i do believe that federal employees are printed and it would be easy to find the theif in their data base. This is really bothersome! Not only tampering with mail but a hate crime 2 federal offenses.

  • persephone

    I mean, how could this possibly fail? Steal your stuff, replace it with hymnal. Of course, you’ll become a Christian. I mean, just because it’s theft, which the Bible condemns, it’s in the name of Jesus.

    • Friday

      I think they’re just marking territory, or something, when they pull stuff like that. Thinking they can intimidate people into submission.

  • Angel Satarose

    If that had been me, I would have also taken the book they replaced the items with, and do a return-to-sender spell, so their karma greets them without lube! I would also have filed federal charges too! That’s tampering with the mail. Period. I’m glad her package was insured. This was very ignorant of the person or persons employed by the UPS office whoever it may have been that done this.

    • Friday

      They really ought to believe stealing from witches is a very bad idea. 🙂

  • Vitrbjorn

    It is a wonder that any of her books made it to her, the followers of the White Christ only say they are open minded when in fact they are as closed minded as a pressure cooked jar. They believe that only their version of God and Christ are the ONLY version. I have very little use for the followers of such a cowardly God, I follow the old gods of the north of Europe, they are not cowardly or forgiving. File federal charges on the entire USPS, I am sure there are other polytheists that would help in a class action lawsuit.

  • Deb Shaw

    This being a Federal crime, Ms. Sforza needs to contact the FBI. This is their jurisdiction.

  • Sistercat

    Possessed by “Kim Davis” spirit

  • Tampering with the mail is indeed a Federal offence–my father was a postal service employee for about 10 years, and he frowned upon anyone opening someone else’s mail without express permission, even bills (which I thought was extreme). I too am surprised that any USPS employee would risk prison and a fine–and if it’s a felony, the loss of the ability to vote, as well as a few other rights. Losing one’s job, and finding it difficult to get another job after jail–not something I’d risk to “make a point”.