Mrs. Justin Allis Shook went to the post office to buy stamps for her Christmas cards and asked for stamps with a religious motif. "Sorry," was the answer, "but they didn't put out any stamps with religious designs this year." Naturally, Mrs. Shook wondered why.

The answer, carefully enunciated by a spokeswoman for the United States Postal Service, is that we have never put out stamps with a religious design. We have put out "art masterworks," however, and did so again this year. One stamp shows George Washington kneeling at Valley Forge; and if you wish to, you can assume he is praying. Another shows a cheery red mailbox brimming with nonreligious Christmas packages.

There is some disagreement among historians as to whether George Washington was more of a deist than an adherent of an established religion. But it is clear that he believed in God, and probably prayed with some regularity, albeit not always by reading his prayers from a book.

USPS officials are no doubt aware of the need to abide by the spirit of the First Amendment, which sets up a wall between church and state, as well as the need to supply postal patrons with stamps appropriate to the holiday season. It seems to me that the USPS has adroitly satisfied both needs with this year's designs.

As far as I'm concerned, George Washington qualifies as a religious man. And I would think that a stamp that shows the father of our country on his knees would be considered appropriate for this season of the year.

I don't know why that postal worker told Mrs. Shook we have no stamps with a religious design this year. Perhaps he thought Washington was on his knees because he was searching for a lost contact lens.