Why Does a Package Labeled 'Atheist' Take Longer To Reach Its Destination?

A German shoe company believes that the United States Postal Service discriminates against atheists — or at least treats packages that say "atheist" differently than others.

The company, aptly named "ATHEIST," sells handmade shoes that declare one's lack of belief in a deity. But it ran into a problem with its shipments to the United States.

"We have lots of customers in the USA, but sometimes the shoes we send them take longer than they should to arrive, or even go missing," ATHEIST said. "And when some of our customers asked us not to use ATHEIST-branded packaging tape on their shipments, we started to wonder if the delays were caused by the U.S. Postal Service taking offence at our overt godlessness."

So it conducted a study at the end of last year in which it sent 2 packages each to 89 people in 49 different states. One of the packages was closed with packing tape that read "ATHEIST," while the other was closed using regular clear tape.

All of the packages left Berlin on the same day and at the same time, so naturally, both packages should have arrived at their final destinations on the same day. But this was not the case. Here's what they found:

- On average, ATHEIST-branded packages took 3 days longer to reach their destinations.

- While only 1 non-branded package went missing, the USPS lost 9 ATHEIST-branded packages.

- A Michigan customer reported receiving their ATHEIST-branded package 37 days after the non-branded one (and removing this one as a potential outlier still left the average delay at 2.56 days).

The company ran several control tests in Germany and the rest of Europe with branded and non-branded packages, finding that the bias did not exist in their part of the world. It also performed statistical tests on the American results, and found their results were statistically significant — meaning that it is unlikely that the results occurred due to chance.

"Interestingly, this seems to be a national problem," the company wrote. "Traditionally less religious and more liberal states also saw high levels of delay and disappearance."

Despite the fact that tampering with mail is a federal offense, customers who took part in the experiment were unsurprised by the results.

There are some potential problems with the study, including the small sample size of 178, branded packages being kept at customs due to being "questionable," and the overall conclusion that human bias is to blame. The company expressed an interest in redoing the study with more people and contacting the appropriate entities to see if packages with "atheist" written on them are considered "questionable."

And, addressing the final concern, ATHEIST announced that its ultimate decision was not to investigate USPS, but to simply no longer ship packages with their branded tape. Since the change, delivery times have improved.

In the study's epilogue, the company declares: "Please order with confidence, our godless American friends!"

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Christine Salek

Christine is a writer and perpetual student living in Des Moines, Iowa. Her writing can also be found on Medium, the Gonzaga Bulletin, and ResearchGate.

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