Until now, there have been 38 approved religious symbols that may be used on a deceased military service member’s memorial marker. Previously approved symbols include the Episcopal cross, Christian cross, Star of David and even a symbol for Atheists. The Department of Veterans Affairs will now include the five-star encircled pentacle to the list. The lawsuit is a result of a ten year battle to incorporate the Wiccan pentacle to the approved list of symbols of faith.
The settlement, which was reached on Friday, was announced on Monday by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which represented the plaintiffs in the case. The litigation charged that denying a pentacle to deceased Wiccan service personnel, while granting religious symbols to those of other traditions, violated the U.S. Constitution.
Why the ten year battle?
The following are excepts from the New York Times:
The group attributed the delay to religious discrimination. Many Americans do not consider Wicca a religion, or hold the mistaken belief that Wiccans are devil worshipers.
There are 1,800 Wiccans in the armed forces, according to a Pentagon survey cited in the suit, and Wiccans have their faith mentioned in official handbooks for military chaplains and noted on their dog tags.At least 11 families will be immediately affected by the V.A.’s decision, said the Rev. Selena Fox, senior minister of Circle Sanctuary, a Wiccan church in Wisconsin. In reviewing 30,000 pages of documents from Veterans Affairs, Americans United said, it found e-mail and memorandums referring to negative comments President Bush made about Wicca in an interview with “Good Morning America” in 1999, when he was governor of Texas. The interview had to do with a controversy at the time about Wiccan soldiers’ being allowed to worship at Fort Hood, Tex.
“I don’t think witchcraft is a religion,” Mr. Bush said at the time, according to a transcript. “I would hope the military officials would take a second look at the decision they made.”
Americans United filed the lawsuit last November on behalf of several Wiccan military families. Among the plaintiffs was Roberta Stewart, whose husband, Sgt. Patrick Stewart, was killed in September 2005 in Afghanistan.
Previously, Mrs. Stewart had only received a government memorial plaque for her husband; however, it was the first of its kind to include the Wiccan pentacle but only after a one year battle to include the symbol. You can read the story of that challenge in the Washington Post (you must register first but it’s free!)
I found another good article about Sgt. Stewart’s story at ReviewJournal.com. It’s a shame that his family has had to wait so long to have his headstone engraved with the symbol of their religion. The AU sees this victory as a stepping stone in overcoming biases toward minority faiths.
I also recommend The Pluralsim Project . This is a great website that explores the religions that are practiced throughout the United States and how to embrace our differences in faiths.