At the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in the small town of Fernley, Nev., there is a wall of brass plaques for local heroes. But one space is blank. There is no memorial for Sgt. Patrick D. Stewart.
That’s because Stewart was a Wiccan, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has refused to allow a symbol of the Wicca religion — a five-pointed star within a circle, called a pentacle — to be inscribed on U.S. military memorials or grave markers.
The department has approved the symbols of 38 other faiths; about half of are versions of the Christian cross. It also allows the Jewish Star of David, the Muslim crescent, the Buddhist wheel, the Mormon angel, the nine-pointed star of Bahai and something that looks like an atomic symbol for atheists.
Stewart, 34, is believed to be the first Wiccan killed in combat. He was serving in the Nevada National Guard when the helicopter in which he was riding was shot down in Afghanistan last September. He previously had served in the Army in Korea and Operation Desert Storm. He was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.
His widow, Roberta Stewart, scattered his ashes in the hills above Reno and would like him to have a permanent memorial.
She said the veterans cemetery in Fernley offered to install a plaque with his name and no religious symbol. She refused.
Anyone who dies in the line of duty is entitled to a military burial with full honors. The least we can do for our fallen soldiers is honor their right to their religion. They died for the Constitution, why doesn’t the Constitution protect them? Why can’t their faith be acknowledged?
It’s not a public establishment of religion, or an “attack on Christianity.” The military pays for the markers, yes, and they are government property. But they are an expression of a single man or woman’s faith or non-faith, not an expression of the country as a whole.
This is a double desecration-not only do we dishonor the religious rights of Sgt. Stewart, but we dishonor the very Constitution that he swore to protect, and that he died for. Can’t somebody in Washington rise above the partisan bullshit and simply do this man-and his widow-some justice?