Wiccans Don’t Count In Our National Cemeteries

Sad to say, too.

From WaPo:

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?

Stuart Richards

Stuart Richards is a 26-year-old land surveyor based out of Portland, OR. He is a left-leaning geolibertarian and (theologically) liberal Christian, and has been blogging on HammerofTruth.com and other libertarian sites since 2004.

  1. By not allowing the pentacle, they are, in fact, “establishing a religion” – the one that is superstitious of pentacles. I am guessing that would be some form of Christianity. Else, why would they have an objection to that particular symbol?

    Hardly sounds like a neutral position towards the various sects to me!

  2. “died for the Constitution”? considering the action in afganistan violates the constitution, i don’t think that statement is appropriate. maybe, because it is off-topic, this comment is inappropriate, but i felt compelled.

    of course, the pentacle question is ridiculous, as one might expect of government. they should, considering their silliness and ineptitude just stay out of the recognition of religion – one way or another.

  3. “Can’t somebody in Washington rise above the partisan bullshit and simply do…”

    nope. Not without a (figurative, Mr. Big Brother, figurative…) gun pointed at their heads. That would be too much to ask of the cons, thieves, bigots and traitors we have “representing” us. It’s a cryin’ shame the mockery they make of the ideals that made this country so great…

  4. Obviously, the Nevada LP has publicized this outrage, written to all Nevada members of Congress, Veterans groups, etc. and provided a pro bono lawyer to help the widow?

  5. Stuart — it has been formally declared by the President of These Here United States that Wicca is not a religion, and thusly it was stricken from the books.

    This within weeks of his taking office. Wicca was removed from the lists as a religion by the executive order of President George W Bush II (Because autocrats with similar names are listed numerically). They recognize *JEDI KNIGHTS* as a religion — but not Wiccans.

    Unfortunately he can get away with it, too. Because the 1st Amendment only restricts *CONGRESS* and he’s not a part *OF* Congress. What gets even worse is that they cannot even create a law requiring Wicca to be recognized — because that *WOULD* violate the text of the 1st Amendment.

    Ain’t that shite grand? “So Mote It Be … NOT! Says El Presidente George!”

  6. I served in the military and I was Pagan, however, I was only allowed to place “no preference” on my dogtags back in 1977. Things have gotten better, but nowhere near where they should be. I hear Fundy X-tians always complaining about the prejudice against them but half of the symbols approved by the VA for markers are X-tian. WHAT PREJUDICE?

    Try being a Wiccan and having to hide your religion or name, by use of a “Craft-name”, in order to avoid very real harrassment almost anywhere. Try dying in battle and not having your spirituality recognized on your very own memorial. Now that’s prejudice and it starts right at the top!

  7. Thane — Not at this time. I could research it, but it was either an Executive Order or else it was simply a general mandate laid down by his office. I *do* know that it was directly at his imperative that it was done. I tried to dig it up — but I do know GWB II is on the record as saying, “I don’t think Wicca is a religion […]”

    And *that* was a statement from the ABC news. (Dated I *believe* June 24th 2000.)

  8. http://www.positiveatheism.org/writ/bushwicca.htm


    I can’t find anything indicating he’s actually done it… so I may have to retract my statement on the order of an Executive Order; but most assuredly it has happened on an informal level.

    For example; on the Faith-Based Initiatives program, no wiccan church or charity group has received funding, to my knowledge. The proportions of those applying to those receiving are disproportionate to the percentages of Americans following religions; the bias is heavily on Christianity, over Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and of course Wicca.

    … this is a pet peeve of mine. lol

  9. all I’ve been able to find (via a quick google of “bush wicca”) is this quote:

    “I don’t think that witchcraft is a religion. I wish the military would rethink this decision.”
    — George W. Bush to ABCNEWS, June, 1999

  10. How could libertarians not get behind folks who have an organisation called, The Lady Liberty League for their legal arm?

    These folks deserve our assistance to insure their brothers and sister are accorded the same respect as others. If they’ll put a symbol on a grave of an Islamic soldier, (a religion which some people prattle on about us being at war with) then it behooves “our” government to respect “our” soldiers religions. Regardless of what the Emperor says.

  11. Interestingly enough one of the darlings of the neo-libertarian movement, Bob Barr (ya know..the one we got unseated?) may be partially behind the government sentiments vis a vis Wicca.
    Despite government recognition which dates back to the late 70’s.

    Bob, tho bending to the rants of Xtian fundies apparently had a few words about Wiccans in the military.


    So, why is it libertarians like Barr, again?

  12. I’m surprised nobody is suggesting that we be pragmatic and avoid this issue. Afterall, it’s unpopular, for god’s sake!

    [sarcasm]Christians are the ONLY religion capable of being discriminated against. Just as blacks and jews are the only ethnic groups capable of being discriminated against.

    Libertarians shouldn’t upset that apple cart. [/sarcasm]

  13. I thought that the burning times were over but I guess witches are still discriminated against. I personally am a solitary wiccan and I think that the government should not be paying for markers but if the Sergeant was promised a marker in a contract, the contract should be fulfilled. If the government does not want to put a pentacle on the marker then all the other signs of religion should be taken down also.

  14. Slim — Proviso: I am an atheist. A very large portion of my closest friends are pagans and witches (male and female.)

    That being said; *READ THE BELOW*.

    From: http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_burn2.htm

    “Trials and executions reached a peak during these ten decades, which are often referred to as the “burning times.” They were mostly concentrated in eastern France, Germany and Switzerland. Witch persecutions often occurred in areas where Catholics and Protestants were fighting. Contrary to public opinion, suspected witches — particularly those involved in evil sorcery — were mainly tried by secular courts. A minority were charged by church authorities; these were often cases involving the use of healing magic or midwifery”


    The “burning times” as proposed — persecution *by the church* never happened. Most of the ‘witches’ were guilty of nothing more than being foreigners.

    The phrase, “Never Again The Burning Times” is a fallacy.

  15. I wonder what would happen if a soldier told his/her superior officer that they were a Wiccan, and if they couldn’t be guaranteed a burial marker with the Wiccan symbol on it, then the soldier would have to return home in order to conform to his/her religious beliefs.

    If one person got this to work, I think we’d see pentacles showing up all over the place.

    Once I get to Washington, somebody remind me about this nonsense and I’ll sponsor a bill to include the Wiccan religion on the Army’s list of recognized belief systems.

  16. Although Wicca is the only religon that I have leass respect for then Scientology, I suppose that it should recieve the same state benefits as any other religion.

  17. Michael — Ahh… might be better to think of it as “cease excluding Wicca.” I like your idea but then again that whole pesky “Congress shall make no law concerning the establishment of religion” bit is sticky here.

    I honestly don’t have a real answer, and as you are far more eminent on the issue (What with having a real chance at so doing), I’ll bow to your choices — obviously.

    Mr. Badnarik — do you mind if I forward your pledge to certain pagan communities I might be aware of with a link to your donation website?

  18. With all the money our government is spending on keeping “GOD” out of our schools and government looks to me as if the government would welcome the Wiccan symbols.

  19. I agree with DAP, #24. I too dislike Wicca as much as scientology, but part of the reason they are not recognized as a religion is because Wicca is a young religion. It is less than 100 years old, so it is easy to not take seriously.

    To be honest am surprised that they don’t use one standard symbol for all the non-mainstream pagan religions to save money. That would be the army way!

    I say give him his damn pentagram, most people don’t even have a clue what it is supposed to mean other than what TV tells them. Don’t be surprised when some other obscure pagan religion wants a swastika by their name because they had it before the Nazis did. I want a front row seat for that one.

    To help all the Wicca’s out there attack me, I am a Modern Deist so save all the “you Christians are bigots” crap.

  20. Once upon a time, 2/3 of a century ago, my late grandfather George E. Phillies was part of the group that used the legal and litigatory process in a combination whose details he never discussed to convince the state of New York that the Hellenic Orthodox faith was a legitimate religion, which New York at the time de facto denied. He succeeded.

    However, it took effort.

    We do make progress on these matters, if more slowly than might be hoped.

  21. IanC wrote:
    >Mr. Badnarik ”” do you mind if I forward your pledge
    >to certain pagan communities I might be aware of with
    >a link to your donation website?

    Not at all! I’m happy to have all the help I can get. Speaking of which, all HoT readers who would like to contribute to my congressional campaign can do so at http://www.badnarik.org. You’ll find a donation button in the upper right hand corner. Many thanks!

  22. You know, it is absolutely shameful and nigh-on depressing that here we are in the 21st century, and anybody that is non-conformist is yet still denied and persecuted. And you know the real hell of it, we don’t do much of anything about it. Christians ( no offense guys) are some of the most bull-headed, stubborn, fanatical, “never-say-die” personalities out there. There are still entire sects of Christianity that rail against the Jews for an “offense” that’s over 2000 years old. Things of this nature happen everyday, all over the country, and very few people hear about it. Those of us that do, suffer from righteous indignation for a few days, we post, we blog, we send angry letters and petitions to wherever we think it will do the most good… then about two weeks, maybe even a month later, the hubbub dies down, we take on a defeatist, they outnumber us, nothings going to change attitude, and let it drop. Well, at least until the next time someone is wronged.

  23. According to the American Religious Identification Survey, there were approximately 134,000 Americans claiming Wicca as their religion in 2001 ”” up from 8,000 people in 1990. That’s an increase of about 17 times. I’ll admit, I’m no better. In a few days, I’ll have too much on my mind to worry about religious injustice. I’ll be too busy trying to make bills, and raise my niece, and keep my house up, etc. A dishonored soul, that I did not personally know six states away just won’t be real enough to me. Maybe that’s our problem. I mean, do we expect our govt to go “ Aww shucks, guys, your right. Let me fix that for you.” Not hardly, but we just don’t have the time, and moral indignation just doesn’t outweigh our overly complicated daily lives. If we could manage more that a few days compassion, and rally behind someone or something, then we could make changes. Mr. Phillies is right, it’s going to take some time, and a lot more gumption that we’re showing now.

  24. Mr. Badnarik — I’m already sending. Be interesting to see what comes of it. :)

    Minority outreach, however, ought to be a higher priority for more LP’ers — I don’t care if you’re a ‘pragmatist’ or a ‘purist’ on that one.