Vet Association Must Allow Wiccan Symbol on Tombstone, Americans United Says

June 8, 2006

Source: Americans United Press Release

On June 8, 2006 an Americans United Press Release reported, "The Department of Veterans Affairs must recognize religious diversity by allowing a Wiccan symbol on the memorial marker of a soldier who died in Afghanistan, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In a June 7 letter to R. James Nicholson, secretary of Veterans Affairs, and William F. Tuerk, under secretary for Memorial Affairs, AU requests that the widow of Sgt. Patrick D. Stewart be permitted to place a Wiccan pentacle on his marker and that the department extend that same right to other Wiccan families...

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, called the situation outrageous...

'Aside from the constitutional issues raised, this is a simple matter of justice and common decency,' Lynn [said]. 'I am hopeful the Veterans Affairs Department will do the right thing and extend full recognition to Wiccans and their families.'

Wiccans have been trying for at least nine years to persuade the National Cemetery Administration to add the pentacle to its list of approved emblems for government headstones, markers, and plaques. Most recently, the Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary in Wisconsin filed an application in January 2006, but the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Cemetery Administration have failed to act on it. A department official refused to even provide a time-frame for issuing a decision.

'The National Cemetery Administration’s failure to recognize the Wiccan Pentacle as a valid religious symbol constitutes unconstitutional discrimination against the Wiccan faith and its adherents,' wrote Aram A. Schvey, AU litigation counsel, in the letter to Nicholson and Tuerk. 'Indeed, there is absolutely no legal support for the Administration’s practice of maintaining a list of officially-approved religious symbols much less its exclusion of any religious symbol from the officially provided markers for military gravesites.'"