Supporters Back Grave Marker for Wiccan Soldier

June 27, 2006

Source: Religion News Service

On June 27, 2006 Religion News Service reported, "The space where the memorial marker of Sgt. Patrick D. Stewart, a decorated American soldier who was killed last year in Afghanistan, should stand is empty because his Wiccan faith is not one of 30 approved for such designation by the federal government. Stewart, a 34-year-old native of Fernley, Nev., was killed Sept. 25 by a rocket-propelled grenade. His body was cremated and he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

His widow, Roberta, held her own Memorial Day service this past May 31 to protest the government's policy. She has refused a temporary marker at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery until she gets a permanent recognition of her late husband's faith... Now, several secular and religious organizations -- including Americans United for Separation of Church and State -- and a well-known constitutional scholar say Stewart's widow should be allowed to have the Wiccan pentacle placed on his marker. In a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson and Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs William Tuerk, Americans United said Wiccans have been trying to get the pentacle, a five-pointed star in a circle, on the list of approved religious symbols to no avail. The group says this is a direct violation of the First Amendment and has asked the VA to respond within 30 days to avoid litigation... Stewart says her husband was always an accepted member of the military community, and said Wicca has been recognized by the armed forces; the Pentacle star was on her husband's dog tags. In an opinion piece for the online version of Christianity Today, a respected voice for American evangelicals, constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead also has come out in favor of the Wiccan cause. 'Whatever one's opinion might be about the Wiccan faith, there should be no doubt in anyone's mind that the First Amendment to our U.S. Constitution provides for religious freedom for all individuals of all faiths -- whether they are Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, Wiccans and others,' Whitehead wrote in an online essay for on June 5."