During a time of year where peace on earth and goodwill towards men are spoken of (and sung about) often, the leader of one organization has a much more Grinch-like approach.
Military Religious Freedom Foundation president Michael Weinstein said that the laying of wreaths on the graves of military heroes across the nation is like a “Christian gang sign.”
“We’re not saying you can’t [place wreaths],” Weinstein told Fox News, “but you cannot blanket it like that. That’s like carpet-bombing.”
Every year, groups like the Boy Scouts and American Heritage Girls gather and lay wreaths on service members’ gravesites to honor them at the holidays. It’s a massive, nationwide annual event organized by a group called Wreaths Across America (WAA).
“We understand we have Veterans Day in the fall and Memorial Day in the spring, but our service members sacrifice their time and safety every single day of the year to preserve our freedoms,” WAA website states. “In many homes, there is an empty seat for one who is serving or one who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. There is no better time to express our appreciation than during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. We hope you will join us at any of our more than 2,500 participating locations to show our veterans and their families that we will not forget. We will never forget.”
While there is no reference to religion on the “Why we do it” page, Weinstein still said, “That looks like it’s a Christian gang sign, that you’re creating territory that is a Christian territory.”
Further, the WAA page says, “Wreaths Across America is committed to teaching younger generations about the value of their freedoms and the importance of honoring those who sacrificed so much to protect those freedoms.”
Weinstein’s group issued a statement on November 22, which said, “On December 18, the graves of all veterans in our country’s 155 national cemeteries and numerous other locations where American veterans are buried, will be indiscriminately decorated with Christmas wreaths by the organization Wreaths Across America.
“”The grave sites of Christians and non-Christians alike will be adorned with this hijacked-from-paganism symbol of Christianity — circular and made of evergreen to symbolize everlasting life through Jesus Christ — whether the families of the deceased veterans like it or not.”
Weinstein said permission should be sought from families of each service member represented in the graves. “Our view is that if you want to put a Christmas wreath on a veteran’s grave, that’s fine,” he said. “But then you must first request that, or you make sure that, in this case, Wreaths Across America has absolute empirical and express approval to do it.”
WAA executive director Karen Worcester told Fox News that since the organization started in 1992, they are careful not to place a wreath on a grave site where there is a Jewish star of David. She also said, however, the group has never been asked to not lay a wreath on a particular grave. The gesture and the organization are not religious or political, Worcester said.
“Our kids are watching us,” she said. “We need to put a good face forward and what we can be in unity and go forward as a country. We’re so blessed to live in this country because of the men and women that we’re trying to honor. We want to respectfully honor every one of them.”
While Weinstein attempted to discredit injure WAA’s image, and more specifically, Worcester’s image, by bringing up the fact that Worcester’s family provides the wreaths to be placed (paid for by donations to the non-profit WAA), Matt Viola, vice president at Charity Navigator, said that their financial records appear to be honest and forthcoming with how and where money is spent.
Charity Navigator evaluates charities and their financial reports. “It has come up before that the wreathes themselves are purchased from a related entity,” Viola said. “This is disclosed properly on the 990 [tax form], and assuming they are paying fair market value for the wreaths (similar to other vendors) and have done that due diligence, they are doing nothing illegal or against IRS regulations.”
However, Viola also pointed out that Weinstein’s group, Military Religious Freedom Foundation, brings in under $700,000 per year, exactly $314,000 goes to Weinstein. The filings also show that Weinstein works 105 hours a week, or 15 hours a day, seven days a week. “The 105 hours worked for Michael Weinstein is a bit odd,” Viola said to Fox News. “I don’t think I ever saw a number that high. If we ignore the 105 hours per week workload, that is higher than what we normally see. We do see six-figure compensation for our $1mil or more star-rated charities, but its low six figures. So for a charity under $1mil, this appears to be high.”
So, while Worcester’s WAA works year-round to teach children to honor our military men and women, especially those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our nation, Weinstein’s Military Religious Freedom Foundation attempts to sully the gesture of decorating and honoring their gravesites by turning it into a political battle. All while Weinstein rakes in more money per year than the service members he claims to be advocating for could even dream of.
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