WASHINGTON, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- In response to Target Corporation's decision to ban the Salvation Army's bell ringers in front of stores this year, the National Clergy Council, among other organizations, are asking their congregations to boycott Target for their holiday shopping.
The Salvation Army kicks off its red-kettle donation drive on Thanksgiving Day each year, but in January 2004, Target announced that the Salvation Army and other charity organizations would no longer be welcome at Target stores due to the company's no-solicitation policy.
Previously, the company made an exception for the Salvation Army's Christmastime collections, but so many other charities and unions asked for exemptions that Target decided to enforce an across-the-board rule, according to Target spokeswoman Theresa Whitfield.
However, the National Clergy Council is taking the decision personally. The Council and its more than 150,000 affiliate members are urging clergy members of all Christian faiths to persuade their congregations, organizations, families, and friends to boycott shopping at Target stores, and instead visit retailers that support the Salvation Army bell ringers and Christian values in general.
"We feel, at the heart, it is a much larger assault on the Christian values as a whole because that's what the Salvation Army stands for," Dane Rose, program director of the National Clergy Council, told United Press International.
"It's really hard to find fault in what the Salvation Army does. It's been around for almost a hundred years. There's never been any negative press, no scandals. It's really baffling that Target has done this."
Inside the National Clergy Council, members call the word-of-mouth campaign to boycott Target stores, "Operation Teach-Scrooge-A-Lesson."
The Salvation Army was founded in 1865 by London-based minister William Booth, as a way to bring his message of Christianity to the poor and destitute, who were not welcome in the traditional churches of Victorian-era London. Today, the Army is located in more than 106 countries.
Target spokeswoman Lena Michaud said Target's decision to ban the bell ringers from its storefronts does not indicate the company disagrees with charitable giving or what the Salvation Army stands for.
"We have had a long-standing no-solicitation policy at all our stores," Michaud told United Press International. Target's decision to ban all solicitors this year was "a matter of consistency and a matter of fairness," Michaud said.
Target does support the Salvation Army in other ways, Michaud said, such as working with the Salvation Army through their local branches.
The Salvation Army estimated that it collected $9 million in donations from Target locations last year, or roughly 10 percent of their annual kettle collections, which totaled $93,842,043 in 2003, the organization said.
SA spokeswoman Melissa Temme said from the information she currently has, the Salvation Army, as an organization, and its individual members do not endorse or support a boycott of Target stores.
"We understand business is business," Temme said, "and we know they have to run their business the way they choose to."
The National Clergy Council is not the only group to call for a boycott of Target stores.
"Millions of Christians give Target millions of dollars," said director of the Culture and Family Institute Bob Knight in a recent interview on the Christian Broadcasting Network, "and what have they gotten from Target in return? A lump of coal. I think they ought to be ashamed of themselves, and I think consumers ought to take this into account when they do their Christmas shopping."
Customers boycotting Target might be turning to Wal-Mart, another discount store. Wal-Mart allows Salvation Army bell ringers and many other charity organizations to solicit donations outside Wal-Mart stores, but with some regulation.
According to Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman, solicitation by non-profit organizations is limited to 14 calendar days, but restricted to three consecutive days at a time.
"It was implemented in 2001," Fogleman told United Press International, "largely as a fairness issue for the organizations as well as our customers."
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is considered one of the largest corporate donors, giving over $150 million to charitable organizations a year, including the Salvation Army, the Children's Miracle Network, and U.S. troops abroad, sending them items such as phone cards, paper, envelopes, and letters of support and encouragement.
Target also has one of the largest corporate philanthropy programs in America, giving $2 million per week to charities. According to company information, that is 5 percent of its federal taxable income.
"Christmas comes but once a year," said National Clergy Council president Rev. Rob Schenck. "Christmas is also the greatest time for charitable giving. Target's bad public relations decision will cause irreparable harm to the Salvation Army's unparalleled programs."