Waynesboro, Virginia Plays Grinch, Closes Christmas Tree Charity

WAYNESBORO, Va. — The famous Grinch who stole Christmas could take lessons from Waynesboro, Virginia. The small Virginia city with a population of 21,006 doesn’t seem to care much for the holiday spirit or charities. When local Christmas tree farmer, Christian Critzer, started a fund raising drive for cancer victims, he ran afoul of the gumpy local zoning board, who threatened him with fines and other legal action. As a result, Critzer became fearful of losing his home, closed down the charity drive and turned to legal advocate, The Rutherford Institute, for assistance..

Mr. Critzer’s wife is a breast cancer survivor and he wanted to give something back to help victims of the deadly disease. Mrs. Critzer was treated at the Martha Jefferson Hospital Cancer Center Foundation, based in Charlottesville. The hospital was chosen by the Critzer’s to be the recipient of the fund raising drive, with the goal of raising money to buy wigs for patients undergoing chemotherapy.

The grateful husband and father of two decided the best way to raise money for the local hospital would be to use his skills as a Christmas tree farmer, sell trees and donate all the proceeds to charity. Critzer operated the charity from his home and kept the trees in his yard, to the displeasure of Waynesboro City Government.

Despite the success of his charitable activities and the support of the community, a city official showed up at the Critzer home on November 26, 2012 and accused him of running a retail business in an area zoned for private residential use. Mr. Critzer explained he was donating all the proceeds to the cancer charity and he was not running a commercial enterprise. The official was unmoved and gave Critzer a summons as a thank you for his desire to help the local community.

Following the first visit from the city, Mr. Critzer decided to give the trees away and accept charitable donations to the hospital. Instead of selling the trees, he gave the trees as gifts to needy local families who could not afford to buy Christmas trees.

The new plan met with cheers from happy families and another visit from the city. This time the bureaucrats warned Critzer that the landlord who owned the house he was renting would face legal action. Being a kind man and not wanting to make trouble for his landlord, Critzer reluctantly ended his charity drive.

Enter The Rutherford Institute, a private organization dedicated to “the defense of civil liberties and human rights.” Rutherford took up Mr. Critzer’s cause and fired off a strong letter in his defense, citing the Zoning Board’s improper interpretation of regulations and their infringement on Critzer’s civil liberties.

John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, expressed his concerns over the constant interference of over zealous bureaucrats, who go out of their way to stop private individuals from doing charitable deeds:

“This year has certainly been plagued with its fair share of Scrooges and Grinches disguised as government agents, threatening individuals with fines and arrest for such simple acts of kindness and charity as distributing free bottled water to the thirsty, giving away free food to the hungry and destitute, and making thermal shelters available to house the homeless during cold winter nights. It’s our hope that Waynesboro officials will focus on solving the many real and pressing problems plaguing their community rather than creating problems where there are none.”

As is typical of most overbearing government officials, Christmas is almost upon us and the city has not responded to the letter. More than likely, they are hoping the holidays will pass and Mr. Critizer will give up and just go away. Then again, perhaps, he will be back with lawyers at his side when Christmas season in 2013 rolls around.

This is just the latest story in a large volume of sad tales of local governments overstepping all bounds of decency and common sense to impose their will on well meaning private citizens. The role of government is to serve the people, not control the people. Perhaps this latest travesty of justice will serve as a wake up call and voters will begin to pay closer attention to the people they put in office in their villages, towns and cities across the nation. After all, the United States is still supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave!

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