Christians are being urged not to be taken in by a hoax email claiming the Royal Mail have instructed staff not to sell religious-themed Christmas stamps.
The email warning comes in a number of different versions - some claim the instruction has been issued so that the Royal Mail can say there is no demand for religious themed stamps, other claim it is not to offend the “militant secularist lobby” and others claim it is not to offend “people of other faiths”.
One version of the chain e-mail criticises one of this year's designs - featuring angels - claiming that the image of an angel is "just vaguely Christian but not explicitly so and certainly not specifically Christmassy."
It goes on to say that a second design, featuring a Madonna and Child, for first and second class stamps, is only available from Post Offices. The message says: "It seems that Post Office staff have been instructed to only sell this design if people specifically request it, but obviously people can't request it if they don't know it exists! If people don't buy these stamps, Royal Mail will claim there is no demand for religious Christmas stamps and not produce them in future. Please therefore ask for Madonna and Child stamps when you do your Christmas posting and also ask your friends to do the same."
The emails urge recipients to forward them to everybody in their address book.
The religious thinktank Ekklesia has been monitoring what it has suggested is a growing climate of fear about prejudice and discrimination against Christians, but which it also suggests is unfounded,
Ekklesia's co-director Jonathan Bartley told Premier Christian Radio's breakfast programme: "This latest email has clearly taken many Christians in, and made them look naive and foolish. But it is also symptomatic of a much wider feeling amongst many Christians that Christianity is being deliberately marginalised.
"We have found that the overwhelming majority of claims that Christians are being discriminated against, or that the Christian faith is being deliberately marginalised, are unfounded. But sadly, all too often, the climate of fear is being fuelled by religious pressure and cause groups, whose agendas are served by making others anxious."
The Royal Mail has dismissed rumours claiming that it is trying to phase out religious Christmas stamps.
Royal Mail spokesman Patrick O'Neil told the independent Catholic News: "These claims are frankly rubbish. This is scaremongering. To say that the image of an angel has nothing to do with Christmas is just wrong. And the Madonna and Child stamps are widely available.
"Why on earth would we want to phase them out? Our Christmas stamps are on sale in 55,000 retail outlets around the country as they are every year. "