Cooley said they had already paid a $100 registration fee to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Projectand were about to launch the campaign when they received an email from the organization.
The church had planned on taking up a special offering on the last Sunday in February and students were collecting money from family and friends.
“We must decline the opportunity to be the beneficiary of your event due to our fundraising event criteria, which doesn’t allow community events to be religious in nature,” read an email from the WWP community events team. “Please note your registration fee will be refunded within the next 7-10 business days.”
WWP said as a nonpartisan organization they cannot accept event fundraising from companies “in which the product or message is religious in nature.”
Pastor Cooley said they were so shocked that the school secretary called Wounded Warrior to make sure there hadn’t been a mistake. He said a WWP representative assured her that “religious” was indeed on their banned list.
“We had to tell our children and parents we can’t give to the Wounded Warrior Project,” Pastor Cooley told Fox News. “We are second-class citizens now because we are people of faith.”
A Wounded Warrior told Fox News they would look into the matter. The organization did not respond to subsequent telephone calls.
The fundraising project was a joint effort by the 400-member church and the 460 students who attend the academy. The pastor said he first learned about WWP by watching Fox News Channel.
The email the church received from Wounded Warrior
“We appreciate the freedoms we enjoy in this country and the fact that our soldiers have fought for freedom of religion,” he said. “We teach patriotism in our school.”
The pastor said they expected to raise as much as $50,000 for the veterans.
“We are not a wealthy congregation,” he said. “But they are generous. We could tell as we began to talk to our people that it stirred their hearts.”
He said the idea of giving sacrificially to help someone else struck a chord with students in the academy.
Ted and Cherilyn Mein have two young daughters who attend the school. She said the girls were simply devastated by the news that the fundraising effort had been cancelled.
“Our school is all about patriotism,” she told Fox News. “We teach that our country was founded for religious freedom – and then to find out that we couldn’t even support the Wounded Warriors because we are Christians – it was hard to explain it to them.”
Kindergarten teacher Tanya Sue Albritton posted a note on the Wounded Warrior Project Facebook page recounting what she had to tell her class.
“They were very sad,” Albritton wrote. “One little girl wanted to know, ‘Why can’t we share with the soldiers?’”
“I was at a loss as to what I should tell her because I don’t understand it myself,” she wrote. “Well, WWP, why can’t we share with the soldiers?”
Cooley broke the news to his congregation in what he called “one of the saddest letters I have ever had to write.”
“We are very disappointed that we, as a religious organization, are being discriminated against,” he wrote to parents. “But they are a private organization and have and should have the freedom to make their own rules.”
On the flip side, the pastor told parents that “we also have the right to make our choice as to where our support goes.”
Becky Sharp teaches sixth grade at Liberty Baptist Academy. She posted a message on the Wounded Warrior Facebook pagenoting here extreme disappointment. She said her students had already raised $400 – many of the boys and girls donated their lunch money.
“I am deeply disappointed that an organization such as yours would reject money from American citizens who want to thank their soldiers for what they have done,” she wrote.
Parents like the Meins are now struggling with how to explain to their children what happened.
“I can’t say that I’ve found a good way to explain it to my children yet,” she said.
The pastor said they have already returned donations that had been collected and will be looking for another veterans group to help.