June 19, 2006, - 3:23 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
This is what happens when the government starts recognizing a million different religions. Everyone, every cult, every belief, and even every non-belief wants their bite at the apple. It opens a pandora’s box.
The latest is with the Wiccans and their fight with the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”). Should military personnel who are Wiccans get to have a pentacle symbol engraved on their government issued tombstones? (FYI, the pentacle is not the same as the symbol of Satan worshippers, who use an upside down pentacle.)
Based on information in a Gannett News Service article, probably so. Right now, that’s not the case. The Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration allows only approved emblems of religious beliefs on government headstones.
The article points out that the VA recognizes 38 emblems of faith, among them emblems for Muslims and atheists. As we know, atheism is not a faith or religion. It’s hard to say that atheists is better than the Wiccan group. Ditto for the American Humanist Association, whose emblem–a stylized human figure with arms stretched upward–is also recognized by the the VA.
Also, the IRS has already granted religious tax exemptions for Wiccan “churches” and federal courts have recognized Wicca as a valid religion. And the nations armed forces have recognized Wiccans for decades, letting them practice their faith on base.
Frankly, the whole thing of recognizing some groups as religious groups by the VA smacks of Unconstitutionality and recognizing a religion. It’s a big problem, as manifest here.
Some Wiccans have served with dedication and honor in the Armed Forces:
Marine Lance Cpl. Eric Ballard says the Department of Veterans Affairs is denying him a right by not permitting him to have the pentacle — his Wiccan faith’s symbol — engraved on his government-issued tombstone when he dies.
“I serve my country and I live my religion and both are very dear to me,” said Ballard, the lay leader for Wiccans at Marine Corps Base in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. “I feel like I should be represented … as an active duty military person and as a Wiccan.”
Roberta Stewart is upset with the VA for not allowing a pentacle — a circle with an inscribed five-pointed star — to be used on a plaque for her husband, Nevada National Guard Sgt. Patrick Stewart, who was killed in Afghanistan last year.
She was told the symbol was not among the 38 emblems of faith recognized for use on VA headstones and memorials.
“Our pentacle represents our spirit and our soul,” she said. “It’s my eternal connection to my husband.”
So what’s the government to do? It’s a troubling debate. Wiccans say their religion is like that of the Native Americans. But they have witches, etc. Also, where do we draw the line? What if, someday, Satan worshippers want their symbols on their military tombstones? Can the government say no? Still, it’s hard to deny the service brave men gave their country, regardless of their beliefs.
More on Wiccan soldier Patrick Stewart who gave his life serving in Afghanistan.
Tags: Afghanistan, American Humanist Association, Debbie Schlussel, Department of Veterans Affairs, Eric Ballard, Hawaii, Internal Revenue Service, lay leader for Wiccans, Marine Lance Cpl., Nevada National Guard, Patrick Stewart, Roberta Stewart, Sergeant, United States Marine Corps, Veterans Affairs' National Cemetery Administration, Virginia