Sending empty envelopes to the White House… receiving one back

The young papist picked up a story I think more people should see.

I added some emphases.  I also blotted out the person’s address on the envelope.

Exclusive: Is the White House mocking pro-lifers?

AmP reader Chris emailed me:

You may remember sometime ago there was an empty envelope campaign where folks on the side of the unborn were encourage to send an empty envelope to the white house, with the message "this envelope represents a life lost to abortion" or something along that line. My wife sent an empty envelope. In our mailbox today, was an empty envelope with the return address "The White House, Washington, DC, 20500." There is no message inside nor on the back. It is hand-addressed to my wife

Here is a picture of the letter she received:

She blogs about the experience here (the comments are also interesting). 

I’d be interested to find out if others who sent empty envelopes to the White House received an empty one back. It’s an odd coincidence, to say the least.

If some snarky intern did indeed think this would be a fun way to get back at pro-lifers, I think Chris and his wife are owed a second letter – an official apology.

So…. has anyone had the same experience?  Heard of someone who had that same experience?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Mary Compeau says:

    I, too, sent several empty red envelopes to the White House recently and I, too, recently
    received a hand addressed letter from the White House. In addition, though, I had emailed the
    President asking him to reconsider his stand on abortion and attached a White Paper that again
    showed scientifically, that life begins at conception. Inside my White House envelope was a
    message signed by the President(?) acknowledging my pro-life message (the usual spin-doctoring).
    So maybe (ie. Ockham’s Razor) someone just forgot to include the correspondence? M

  2. Rancher says:

    While the envelope from the White House may have been empty it does send a consistent message. That empty envelope symbolizes the empty promises of the annointed one to reduce abortion.

  3. JR says:

    While I completely support those who protest the evil of Abortion, I think that this post is somewhat unnecessary. [“somewhat” unnecessary….. So, …. it was in fact necessary.]

    Anyone involved in mass-mailings (i.e. sending loads of letters!) will tell you that mistakes are made all the time. So it was probably just one of those.

    On the other hand, if it was deliberate. Well… glass houses? stones? know what I mean? She *did* send *them* one after all.

    But, it probably was just a mistake.

  4. Chris says:

    Fellow Fr. Z fans, I’m the husband of blogger Erin who received the envelope – I just called the White House and left a message for Jeff Stephens in the White House correspondence office. We shall see if I get called back.

  5. Mary Compeau has a point with Occam’s Razor I think. We need to consider and eliminate the possibility of error or a snarky intern before assuming Obama is intending to mock us.

    However, if the evidence does point to a deliberate disrespect from the White House, we should consider his words of “seeking common ground” to have as much value as the contents of this mentioned envelope.

  6. william says:

    JR, on the back of empty envelope sent by the Prolifer was a hand-written note. It was signed, too!

  7. Andy Lucy says:

    My problem with this is that the original citizen who sent the “empty” envelope to the White House, used her own funds to do so.

    Should this turn out to be an impudent intern trying to make a statement, he/she did it with MY tax dollars. That dog just don’t hunt.

  8. Matt Q says:

    I appreciate the symbolism of the empty envelopes, but it’s meaning is already lost. How does merely sending empty envelopes supposed to be inspiring and motivating? Flooding the place with envelopes is kind of a smart-a-ssed gesture and not to mention bordering on harassment. It’s really a bit immature to think it wouldn’t be done right back at ya and then get upset when it does. “We demand an apology.” Grow up.

    BTW, folks, don’t fool around with the White House. They have power beyond our imagination and can make things happen, for good and not. Don’t put yourself on the Not side.

  9. BTW, folks, don’t fool around with the White House. They have power beyond our imagination and can make things happen, for good and not. Don’t put yourself on the Not side.

    Comment by Matt Q — 14 July 2009 @ 10:31 am

    People should not be afraid of their government. Government should be afraid of their people. I’m saying that, and I work for the government.

  10. Chris says:

    So in other words, Matt Q, we should tone down the rhetoric?

    Pay attention. The empty envelope had a message written on the back of it explaining what it symbolized.

  11. Matt Q says:

    David L Alexander commented:

    “People should not be afraid of their government. Government should be afraid of their people. I’m saying that, and I work for the government.”


    Yes, David, I agree with you and rightly so. The true moral philosophy of your statement is correct, however, with the existing reality at hand, one needs to tread cautiously and in a fully thoughtful manner. I have family who work for the Govt also and thus are in the know, which is why I gave my admonition in the first place. People can take it or leave it but they’ve been informed.

  12. Matt Q says:


    I am fully aware of a message on the back of the envelope ( nor did I saying about toning down rhetoric ) but obviously YOU missed my point–because you weren’t paying attention–which was being careful how one goes about making a statement, especially with the White House. That was it.

    Further, what alternate reality do you live in where you go about doing something and expect it can’t be done back to you? You sent empty envelopes to the White House and then get offended when one comes back to you. At least you got one. It proves you’ve been personally acknowledged. What now? I suppose in the future, they can just stamp Return To Sender on all of your envelopes and there you are.

  13. Rancher says:

    I just received an automated e-mail from the White House in which Mr. Obama touted the alledged attributes of his nominee for the Supreme Court. I didn’t solict the e-mail any more than he solicited the blank envelopes. And the empty envelopes we sent referred to a truth far greater than his empty e-mail.

  14. Ohio Annie says:

    Jr and william, but above in the article it says: “There is no message inside nor on the back. “

  15. Chris says:

    Here, here, Rancher.

    Matt Q – if it were a totally blank envelope that was sent in, then a totally blank empty envelope coming back, while rather mocking, would make more sense. This was an envelope that was empty but had a message on the back explaining why it was empty.

    And I don’t think anyone here is offended so much as surprised…then again, there’s a cabinet member who has sent dead fish to people who disagree with him so maybe no one should be surprised either.

  16. william says:

    Annie, get your eyeglasses. The envelopes sent by prolifers all have a written message on the back side. The \”snarky\” letter from the White House, according to the article above, had no message whatever.

  17. Monica says:

    This kind of silly tactic is not intelligent or spiritual and does nothing for the pro-life movement. The cause is protecting human life; not the feelings of an individual pro-lifer. On a side note, pro-life Catholics need to resist the temptation of appearing to fall in line with the Republican Party and right wing radio talk show demagogues (who spend 99% of their time wining about paying taxes and 1% of their time with a brief mention of protecting the unborn….it should be the other way around). This issue is far too important than to be reduced to partisan politics. No matter how you feel about Obama; the focus should be on the issue of life and NOTHING else.

  18. MJS says:

    I really enjoy the diversity of opinion which has begun to appear in the comments section of this website. It never hurts to be challenged. In fact, it’s the only way to test and prove your ideas. I hope this engagement continues.

  19. Erin says:

    Matt Q,
    The White House is supposed to be flooded with letters, every day. It is a sign that people have opinions and expect their government to listen to them. Telling our elected officials what we want from them is our duty – not harrassment or even close to it.

    I also never said “We demand an apology.” Nowhere will you find those words attributed to me. Thomas Peters said that perhaps the White House should apologize. But I don’t demand it of them, not at all. What I would like is an explanation of what was supposed to be in the envelope. I am just curious. It probably was a mistake, but the irony of it all is what intrigued me. And sure, it could be a snarky intern.

    And Andy Lucy, yes. They also used an actual stamp to mail the letter… does the White House not have some kind of bulk mailing rate?

  20. Chris says:

    Monica, where is there anything here about protecting the feelings of an individual pro-lifer? No apology was demanded, this was merely an observation of something really odd that happened to us (and due to curiosity about whether others had received a similar response, I tossed it to Thomas, Fr. Z picked it up, and the rest is history.) This isn’t about self-pity or anything, but more about trying to figure out if this is the White House’s official response.

    Just out of curiosity, but if anti-war types sent a bunch of empty envelopes with messages written on the back to a republican president, representing soldiers killed in a conflict, would you call it a silly tactic? Your comment seems to drip with your hatred for a particular political party…funny, I have only seen people on the same side as the current president make any reference to political party in regard to this post.

  21. Rancher says:

    The fact that an actual stamp was used instead of the White House postage machine/bulk stamp is a hint that some staffer who disagrees with the pro life envelopes appropriated an envelope, affixed a stamp to it and mailed it. It would be interesting to see if the cancellation was imprinted at the White House post office facility (normal) or some other post office. If the later it points to the staffer doing this “unofficially”.

  22. Chris says:

    Rancher – it’s a barely-legible postmark / cancellation of the stamp. That is the weird part of it. I’m hoping the White House Correspondence Office will call back and tell me indeed that it’s not official or approved.

  23. Doug says:

    Wow. Really? Sounds like somebody is itchin’ for a fight…
    On more than one occasion I have inadvertently mailed a utility payment
    without including the check inside the return envelope.
    Think less “Anti-Cable Company Manifesto” – and more “Don’t Pay Bills at The
    Kitchen Table While the Family Eats Breakfast”
    That said, if you work for a utility company, and you had to process one
    of my erroroneous payments, and you took offense–please forgive my

  24. Jeff M says:

    One of the contributors to Fr. John Malloy’s blog sent a letter to the WH regarding their pro-choice policies, and got a letter back that said “Thank you taking the time to share your views on abortion.
    This is a heart wrenching (yadda, yadda, bs, bs, yadda…)” It was mailed in a 9×12 envelope on cardboard. So, maybe there is something going on in the mail-room. This is a bit more obvious than an empty envelope… See:

  25. C. says:

    Thank you to everyone who is sharing facts about this, and thank you to Rancher for that interesting analysis. Misusing government stationery is a felony, so it would be best for anyone who receives such an envelope to preserve it as evidence.

    The symbolism of the red letter project was: each letter represents one sacred human life, and one abominable crime. The empty WH letter back is a mockery of the value of that human life, and an open defense of its destruction. Whoever sent that empty letter is a menace to society and needs prompt psychological evaluation.

  26. Monica says:

    I think my point has been made. By the way, wasn’t Pope John Paul II and isn’t Pope Benedict XVI anti-war types? Our Holy Catholic Faith is above partisan labels. The Magesterium is infallible in matters of Faith and Morals; but political parties are NEVER infallible.

  27. Tina in Ashburn says:

    soooo, the question still stands, did anybody else having mailed in the empty pro-life envelope get the same back?

    Apparently not?

    Never underestimate the ineptitude of government – there’s a lot more of that than evil intention I am thinking.

  28. Holly says:

    I also received the exact same hand addressed envelope last week. This was no mistake. It was intentional. It just proves what kind of people we are up against!

  29. Jaybird in Ashburn says:

    Hi Tina! I haven’t received anything back.

Comments are closed.