Research Report

Use of the Wiccan Pentacle on Military Memorials (2007)

(Paganism)


Description

Religious Diversity News has collected articles about the controversy over use of the Pentacle for the memorials of Wiccan soldiers.
For several years, efforts to have the Wiccan Pentacle inscribed on the markers, plaques, and headstones of American Wiccan veterans have met with no response from the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Despite official requests to follow the wishes of veterans and soldiers killed in action, the VA has not added the Pentacle to its list of acceptable emblems of belief for government markers.
Pagans have been in the American armed forces for many years. Since 1978, the Army Chaplain’s handbook has listed ways to accommodate Wiccans. (1) The Military Pagan Network has been active since 1992. In 2005, there were an estimated 1,800 Wiccans in the armed forces. (1)
The Veterans Administration lists thirty-eight symbols for use on commemorative headstones, markers, and plaques, including symbols for Sikhism, Humanism, Unitarian Universalism, Eckankar, and Soka Gakkai International. (2) Since 1997, Wiccan veterans and their families have petitioned for the addition of the Pentacle to this list, with no success. During that time, several other symbols have been added or replaced on the VA list. (3)
Sergeant Patrick Stewart, a Wiccan veteran of the Gulf War, was killed while serving in Operation Enduring Freedom on September 25, 2005. His widow Roberta Stewart, also Wiccan, joined with Circle Sanctuary to ask the VA to approve the Pentacle, to no avail. In late 2006, the state of Nevada took matters into its own hands. The Nevada Office of Veteran Services announced that it had jurisdiction over the state cemetery, and issued a memorial plaque with the Pentacle. On December 2, 2006, the memorial plaque for Sgt. Stewart was dedicated. (3)
Editorials from Nevada to Minnesota have been written in support of the Pentacle campaign. (5,6) John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute, in this article from Christianity Today, calls the VA's actions an infringement on the religious freedoms of all Americans: "By refusing to place the Wiccan symbol on Sgt. Stewart's memorial plaque, while permitting symbols of other religions and non-religions, the government is clearly engaging in viewpoint discrimination—which is a shoddy way to treat someone who has died in service to his country...the only way that freedom can prevail for Christians is for Christians to stand up and fight for the minority beliefs and religions of others." (7)
In November 2006, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State brought a lawsuit against the VA on behalf of Stewart, Circle Sanctuary, and other widows of Wiccan veterans. (4) As of January 2007, the VA has made no response.
Circle Sanctuary Reverend Selena Fox’s detailed narrative of the Pentacle campaign presents an insight into the ongoing progress of the Pentacle campaign from one of its central figures, and Professor Sarah Pike's article "The Pentacle Quest: Religious Freedom and the US Department of Veterans Affairs" offers a brief overview of the controversy. Both can be found at the Circle Sanctuary/Lady Liberty League website, www.circlesanctuary.org/liberty.

References

1) Bauer, Scott. "Wiccans demand acceptance." USA Today, December 21, 2006. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2006-12-21-wiccans_x.htm.
2) "Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers." United States Department of Veterans Affairs Website, updated January 8, 2007. Retrieved from http://www.cem.va.gov/cem/hm/hmemb.asp.
3) Pike, Sarah M. "The Pentacle Quest: Religious Freedom and the US Department of Veterans Affairs." Retrieved from http://www.circlesanctuary.org/liberty/veteranpentacle/smpikearticle.htm.
4) Americans United for Separation of Church and State, "Americans United Files Litigation Challenging Veterans Administration Bias Against Wiccans," November 13, 2006. Retrieved from http://www.au.org/site/News2?JServSessionIdr012=x7966w61u2.app1b&abbr=pr&page=NewsArticle&id=8711&security=1002&news_iv_ctrl=1241.
5) "Editorial: Freedom denied if grave symbol not approved." Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard, September 15, 2006. Retrieved from http://www.lahontanvalleynews.com/article/20060915/Opinion/109150025.
6) Soucheray, Joe. "Fallen Wiccan soldier due honors of his faith." St. Paul Pioneer Press, December 24, 2006. Retrieved from http://www.twincities.com/mld/pioneerpress/news/local/16302449.htm.
7) Whitehead, John W. "Stand up, stand up for Wicca." Christianity Today, June 5, 2006. Retrieved from http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/juneweb-only/123-12.0.html.