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Military-church separation group says placing wreaths on vets’ graves an ‘atrocity’

Services members, veterans, and families take part in Wreaths Across America. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Kathryn M. Adams/Released)
December 06, 2021

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a religious liberty group focused on keeping religious influence out of the U.S. military, is protesting Wreaths Across America, a group that places wreaths at thousands of military gravesites around the country annually on Dec. 18 and 19, and calling their work an “atrocity.”

“We have no problem if people reach out and want a wreath on their deceased veterans’ graves, but to put them everywhere, to blanket them without permission of the surviving families is unconstitutional, an atrocity and a disgrace,” MRFF founder Mikey Weinstein told the Colorado Springs Gazette on Saturday.

In a November 22 statement, MRFF called the wreath-laying event a “desecration of non-Christian veterans graves” with Christmas wreaths.

“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,” MRFF wrote. “The gravesites 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.”

MRFF’s complaint is that the wreath is implicitly tied to Christian traditions. In their statement, the group noted, a 2013 video in which Wreaths Across America founder Morrill Worcester explained that each wreath is made from ten balsam bouquets. Worcester said the first bouquet “stands for the veteran’s faith in God,” a statement MRFF said adds religious symbolism to Wreaths Across America’s actions.

According to MRFF, Wreaths Across America previously said they would avoid placing their wreaths on the gravesites of non-Christian service members, including those marked with the Jewish Star of David symbol.

Amber Caron, a spokeswoman for the Maine-based Wreaths Across America, told the Colorado Springs Gazette, the wreaths are not meant to represent a religious symbol and are veterans’ wreaths, not Christmas wreaths.

“We are not ‘decorating graves’ but honoring American heroes,” Caron said.

Over the past few years, Wreaths Across America has also received support in the U.S. Senate. Each year, Sens. Susan Collins — a Republican — and Angus King — a political independent who caucuses with the Democrats — have passed Senate resolutions designating Dec. 19 as “Wreaths Across America Day.”

Last year, President Donald Trump reversed a decision to cancel Wreaths Across America’s visit to Arlington National Cemetery over what he called a “ridiculous” COVID-19 pandemic concerns.

“People say you’re Scrooge Weinstein, but this is wrong and un-American to assume every veteran would want a wreath on their grave,” Weinstein told the Colorado Springs Gazette. “These veterans have given their all for this country, and they can’t fight back now. We’re going to continue fighting for them.”

Though the MRFF has not brought forward any legal actions at this time, Weinstein said the MRFF “will move swiftly and aggressively to prosecute, criminally, and sue, civilly, anyone who tries to place a Christmas wreath at these hallowed gravesites without first obtaining the families’ permission!”