The leader of a nonprofit that protects military members' religious freedoms said wreaths laid on tombstones of veterans whose families haven't consented are Christian gang signs.
"We're not saying you can't [place wreaths], but you cannot blanket it like that," Military Religious Freedom Foundation president Michael ‘Mikey’ Weinstein told Fox News. "That's like carpet-bombing."
"That looks like it's a Christian gang sign, that you're creating territory that is a Christian territory," he continued.
Weinstein’s organization issued a Nov. 22 statement attacking Wreaths Across America, which has placed wreaths at veteran cemeteries for nearly 30 years.
"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 statement read.
"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," it continued.
But Wreaths Across America executive director Karen Worcester told Fox News that her organization isn't Christian or political.
Weinstein said: "Our view is that if you want to put a Christmas wreath on a veteran's grave, that's fine. 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."
Worcester told Fox News that Wreaths Across America has had a policy against laying wreaths at graves marked with the Jewish Star of David since the group started in 1992.
But she also said Wreaths Across America has "never been asked not to" place wreaths for veterans of other non-Christian faiths, such as Islam. She then added that they have never "placed those wreaths unless asked by the families to do so."
"We live in a free country where there is freedom of religion, and we respect that," Worcester told Fox News.
Additionally, Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s research director, Chris Rodda, pointed out how Wreaths Across America purchases its wreaths from a for-profit entity tied to the Worcester family.
"According to their latest available tax return, the Worcester’s nonprofit Wreaths Across America took in nearly $25 million in donations in 2019 and then paid nearly $17 million of that to their for-profit wreath company to produce the wreaths," Rodda wrote.
Worcester defended her nonprofit’s finances.
"The wreaths have to be made," she told Fox News. "That's that and for many long-standing years there is [a request for proposal] process."
"It’s done by members of the board that have no relation to the Worcester, the founding family," she continued.
Matt Viola, vice president at Charity Navigator, an organization that evaluates nonprofits, told Fox News that Wreaths Across America’s financial practices appear to be above board.
"It has come up before that the wreathes themselves are purchased from a related entity," he 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."
Viola also reviewed the Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s finances. According to its 2020 IRS filings, Weinstein received a salary of $314,000 even, and the organization reported under $700,000 in total revenue. Those same documents also showed that Weinstein reported working 105 hours per week, which amounts to 15 hours a day, seven days a week.
"The 105 hours worked for Michael Weinstein is a bit odd," Viola told 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," he added. "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."
Weinstein told Fox News: "My salary is perfectly in line with a ton of other folks that do what they do."
Weinstein called on the Biden administration to speak out against Wreaths Across America.
"We'd love President Biden, and Secretary [Denis] McDonough, the head of the [Department of Veterans Affairs], to come out and simply say again, 'Fine if you want your wreaths, but then you make sure that you've either requested one from Wreaths Across America or that … Wreaths Across America has expressed or explicit approval to do it'," he said.
Worcester said her organization's message is about bringing people together: "Our kids are watching us. 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," she continued. "We want to respectfully honor every one of them."