I was rather flabbergasted by running across this item, courtesy of our local community radio station, KUSP - AP article follows below the fold, link to AP article here.
The family of a soldier who practiced the Wiccan religion and who was killed in action in Afghanistan last September has not been allowed by the Veteran's Affairs' National Cemetery Administration to place the Wiccan symbol -- the pentacle, the five-sided star with a circle around it -- on the soldier's grave marker.
Great way to honor our war dead who fought for our country's freedoms -- to deny them freedom of religion even in death. More on the flip.
Lest you think this is just because the issue hasn't come up before, they've been "considering" a request to allow the symbol on markers for nine years now.
I'm not a Wiccan, I frankly think all religions are a bit loony, but neither is this the case of some splinter cult. The VA has approved over 30 diffferent religious symbols for groups with far fewer practitioners than the Wiccans. Believe it or not, the VA even has an approved symbol for atheists!
Why is this? No one from the VA will comment. Could it be because the religious right in this country equates Wiccans with Satanists and doesn't like the symbol they use? (Even though, of course, the symbol of Christianity, the Cross, is a symbol of the execution device used by the Romans -- like having an electric chair as your symbol. I digress.)
Who would it hurt to let them put the religious symbol of their choice on the marker? For that matter, anything anybody wants to put on their marker -- a happy face, a peace sign, or an American flag, can't we respect something about the departed war dead's beliefs on their last physical testament on earth?
Kudos to Senator Harry Reid's office for fighting for the family of Sgt. Patrick Stewart. Nuts to the bureaucrats of the Bush regime for stonewalling on a soldier's final request of his country.
For Wiccan Nev. Soldier, Death Brings Fight
RENO, Nev. -- Nevada officials are pressing the Department of Veteran Affairs to allow the family of a soldier killed in Afghanistan to place a Wiccan symbol on his headstone.
Roberta Stewart looks at the Northern Nevada Veterans memorial wall where her husband's name would have been placed, in Fernley, Nev., in this March 1, 2006, file photo. Nevada National Guard Sgt. Patrick Stewart was killed in Afghanistan in September and his widow is still fighting to have their religion, Wicca, recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs for use on his memorial plaque. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Review Journal, Cathleen Allison)
Federal officials so far have refused to grant the requests of the family of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, 34, who was killed in Afghanistan last September when the Nevada Army National Guard helicopter he was in was shot down.
"Every veteran and military member deserves recognition for their contributions to our country," said Tim Tetz, executive director of the Nevada Office of Veterans Services.
The state's top veterans official said Thursday that he was "diligently pursuing" the matter in cooperation with Gov. Kenny Guinn, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev.
"Sgt. Stewart and his family deserve recognition for their contributions to our country," Tetz said.
"It's unfortunate the process is taking so long, but I am certain Sgt. Patrick will ultimately receive his marker with the Wiccan symbol," he said.
Stewart, of Fernley, who was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, was a follower of the Wiccan religion, which the Department of Veterans Affairs does not recognize.
Wiccans worship the Earth and believe they must give to the community. Some consider themselves witches, pagans or neo-pagans.
The Veterans Affairs' National Cemetery Administration allows only approved emblems of religious beliefs on government headstones. Over the years, it has approved more than 30, including symbols for the Tenrikyo Church, United Moravian Church and Sikhs. There's also an emblem for atheists _ but none for Wiccans.
Stewart's widow, Roberta Stewart, said she's hopeful she'll receive permission to add the Wiccan pentacle _ a circle around a five-pointed star _ to her late husband's government-issued memorial plaque.
While Memorial Day services are scheduled Monday at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley, Roberta Stewart plans an alternative service at Fernley's Out of Town Park. She's calling the ceremony the Sgt. Patrick Stewart Freedom for All Faiths Memorial Service.
"This is discrimination against our religion," Roberta Stewart said.
"The least his country can do is give him the symbol of faith as he would have wished," she recently told the Daily Sparks Tribune.
The Rev. Selena Fox, senior minister of the Wiccan Circle Sanctuary in Barneveld, Wis., is among those who have been pushing the federal government to adopt the emblem. She said the Veterans Affairs Department has been considering such requests for nearly nine years with no decision.
"While this stonewalling continues, family of soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice are still waiting for equal rights," Fox said by telephone.
"Sgt. Stewart was shot down by terrorists. He deserves to be recognized. I'm holding out hope that my ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War did not do so in vain and that the freedom of religion on which our country was founded will prevail," she said.
Officials for the National Cemetery Administration in Washington, D.C., did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment.
Veterans Affairs Department spokeswoman Jo Schuda told the Las Vegas Review-Journal last month that the application was being processed but there was no new information on whether it will be approved.
Stewart enlisted in the Army after he graduated from Reno's Wooster High School in 1989 and served in Desert Storm and in Korea. After completing his active duty, he enlisted in the Nevada Army National Guard in 2005 and went to Afghanistan with Task Force Storm.