Witchvox, we have several
articles on the continued quest.
on behalf of slain Wiccan soldiers, to get the Veterans Administration to allow their religious symbol -- the Pentacle -- to be placed upon their memorial markers and gravestones. I've covered this story throughout the year and I'm going to continue to cover it until the courts force the VA to do the right thing.
Since 1978 the armed forces have recognized that they need to make accommodations for service members who are Wiccan. Wiccan soldiers have served in the armed forces at least as far back as the Korean War. Jill Medicine Heart Combs, a member of the National Board of CUUPS (Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans) and a National Board member of Pagan Pride Project International spoke about her husband, Gerwin Dee Combs. "My husband is a Wiccan veteran. For the last two years he has been in a VA hospital. He is in a coma and his medical records reflect that he is in a persistent vegetative state. I know at any moment my husband could die and I know he would want a Pentacle on his headstone and as of now, he could not have one."
Jill became visibly more emotional as she spoke, "Congresswoman Jean Schmidt of Ohio's 2nd District wrote a letter to me this summer stating that the VA is concerned about the "legal and moral aspects" surrounding VA approval of the Pentacle. The First Amendment of the Constitution protects freedom of religion. It is not the job of the VA to determine the morality of any particular religion, but for the record my husband's religion is moral. I will tell you what is immoral. It is immoral for the VA to deny religious freedom to veterans who have served their country in the fight for freedom."
What's doubly ironic, and sad, about this is that the VA has a list of "approved" symbols -- something that no self-respecting government with a First Amendment should ever have -- and those symbols include religions of which I'm willing to bet you've never heard. The VA even approved a symbol for atheists. But not Wiccans.
If you are an American Wiccan and you volunteer to serve your country and are killed doing so, tough shit. No marker for you.
The State of Nevada, home to slain Wiccan soldier Patrick Stewart, has behaved more honorably than the VA, providing his widow with a plaque engraved with a Pentacle. [T]he Governor of Nevada, Kenny Guinn, intervened and provided a memorial plaque with the Pentacle on it, saying that Sgt. Patrick Stewart had died for his country and that was all he needed to know.
At a ceremony to bless the plaque, retired military chaplain and Christian minister, Rev. William Chrystal . . . led a group of Pagan veterans in a salute to Sgt. Patrick Stewart, and then described his own relationship with Sgt. Stewart. He honored Sgt. Stewart's Wiccan beliefs when he said, "I wear this uniform proudly, as Pat's Chaplain and as a Christian minister. I think it was Red Cloud the Sioux who said that there many paths to the Great Spirit."
If you haven't watched the video of this event
, you owe it to yourself to do so, box of Kleenex in hand. Rev. Chrystal did a lovely, respectful job. I honor him.
Senator Reid's office and the Governor's office were also present. a representative from Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid's office, delivered the following statement, from Senator Reid, "This day is long overdue. Ever since Sergeant Patrick Stewart's death, his wife Roberta has worked to ensure he is properly recognized. I commend the Nevada Office of Veterans Services for making it happen. All of our troops deserve nothing less that to be properly recognized. I will continue to work closely with the US Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure that the issue is addressed at the federal level."
Nicholas Vander Poel, Regional Representative for Nevada Governor-elect and Representative Gibbons also spoke at the Dedication: "I remember standing in Rancho San Rafael, telling Roberta if there was anything we could do, please do not hesitate. We did not want to let her down. We were constantly in contact with the VA and we wanted to make sure that Sgt. Stewart was recognized." Following the Dedication, Representative Gibbons released this statement: "Sgt. Patrick Stewart made the ultimate sacrifice defending the freedoms we enjoy, religion being one of them. Sgt. Stewart defended a constitution that said he had the freedom of religion and it was only fitting to see him receive a plaque honoring his beliefs. Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to Roberta and the family."
My bet is that most Americans react to this story the same way that Joe Soucheray, writing in the Twin Cities Pioneer Press
does. Although Joe doesn't know anything about Wicca, and although he can't write about it without cracking a few jokes, for him the bottom line is this: Sgt. Patrick Stewart of the Nevada National Guard died for his country. That's more than all the lawyers and activists always hectoring each other about religious rights have ever done. I don't care whether Stewart's widow wants a likeness of Mickey Mouse chiseled into his stone, much less a pentacle. . . . But Wiccans? . . . I don't know what they do, or what time their Mass starts. All I know is that they haven't caused the world any big problems.
And if they die for us while wearing our uniform, they certainly should have their own proper markers at their graves.
Dear VA, 2007 would be a good time for you to start to act like Americans.