[Vision2020] Widow Pushes for VA Approval of Wiccan Symbol
thansen at moscow.com
Wed Sep 27 16:10:50 PDT 2006
>From today's (September 27, 2006) Daily News Roundup Edition of the Army
Widow pushes for VA approval of Wiccan symbol
By Sandra Chereb
The Rev. William Chrystal (left) looks on as the Rev. Serena Fox describes
the importance of the pentacle, a Wiccan religious symbol, at the American
Freedom Rally in Reno, Nev., on Tuesday. The rally commemorated the first
anniversary of the death of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, a Wiccan soldier who died
while serving in Iraq. - Debra Reid / AP Photo
RENO, Nev. - Family and friends of a Nevada soldier killed in Afghanistan
marked the anniversary of his death by praising state leaders for
recognizing his Wiccan faith and pressing the U.S. Department of Veterans
Affairs to do the same.
The small group gathered in the early morning chill Tuesday at a downtown
veterans memorial to remember Nevada Army National Guard Sgt. Patrick
Stewart and four comrades who died Sept. 25, 2005 in Afghanistan.
"We remember them today and the sacrifices they made for us," said Stewart's
For her, the past year has been a mix of grief and resolve to have a Wiccan
pentacle - a five-pointed star surrounded by a circle - placed on her
husband's plaque at the state Veteran's Memorial Wall in Fernley.
She won a partial victory two weeks ago when state veterans officials
granted use of the symbol after the Nevada Attorney General's Office
concluded federal officials have no authority over state veterans'
"We're hoping for installation on Patrick's birthday, Oct. 21," she said.
Stewart and others said the fight for Wiccan recognition at national
cemeteries will continue, even if it means taking legal action.
The Department of Veterans Affairs does not include the Wiccan faith among
the more than 30 religions it recognizes.
Wiccans worship the Earth and believe they must give to the community. Some
consider themselves witches, pagans or neo-pagans.
VA officials have said they are rewriting rules and procedures for approving
emblems, a process which also requires a public comment period.
The Rev. Selena Fox, senior minister of the Wiccan Circle Sanctuary in
Barneveld, Wis., said she has been pushing the VA on such requests for more
than nine years.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington, D.C.,
group that litigates religious freedom cases, has joined in the effort.
"The VA has pursued a path of discriminatory delay for the past nine years,
refusing to add the pentacle while simultaneously adding the symbols of
other faiths," a lawyer for the group wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to
Veterans Affairs Secretary James Nicholson and William Tuerk, undersecretary
for memorial affairs.
"This country is engaged in armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it
would be utterly inequitable and morally disgraceful to force grieving
widows and widowers to wait indefinitely to lay their loved ones to rest
while the VA claims to engage in yet more rule making."
The letter threatened a lawsuit if the issue is not resolved by Oct. 11.
Fox said there are about 1,800 Wiccans serving in the active military, and
that the VA's actions defy constitutional protections of religious freedom.
"Just because it's guaranteed doesn't mean it's implemented," she said.
Tuesday's ceremony followed a candlelight vigil the night before in Fernley,
a small town 30 miles east of Reno where Roberta Stewart still lives.
"It was a small gathering. ... a beautiful tribute to the boys," she said.
Patrick Stewart, 35, and Chief Warrant Officer John Flynn, 36, of Sparks,
were members of the Army Guard's Company D, 113th Aviation Regiment.
They were killed when their Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan.
Also killed in the crash were Warrant Officer Adrian B. Stump, 22, of
Pendleton, Ore.; Sgt. Tane T. Baum, 30, of Pendleton, and Sgt. Kenneth G.
Ross, 24, of Peoria, Ariz.
Stewart was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
Footnote of interest: The military currently accepts non-high school
graduate enlistees with police records and extensive tattoos. In my
opinion, that description pretty much defines gang bangers. Yet,
homosexuals are barred from enlistment?
Seeya round town, Moscow.
"Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil
and steady dedication of a lifetime."
--Adlai E. Stevenson, Jr.
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