Open Buddha

Open Source Buddhism, Technology, and Geekery
Bay Area, California

Wiccans Win Right to Have Pentacle on Veteran Memorials

This was just sent to me. It seems to be breaking news but is unsourced since I don’t know where this is copied from…

Bush Administration Agrees To Approve Wiccan Pentacle For Veteran Memorials

Monday, April 23, 2007

Settlement In Americans United Lawsuit Comes After Discovery Of A Pattern Of Bias Against Minority Faith

The Bush administration has conceded that Wiccans are entitled to have the pentacle, the symbol of their faith, inscribed on government-issued memorial markers for deceased veterans, Americans United for Separation of Church and State announced today. The settlement agreement, filed today with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, brings to a successful conclusion a lawsuit Americans United brought against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in November. The litigation charged that denying a pentacle to deceased Wiccan service personnel, while granting religious symbols to those of other traditions, violated the U.S. Constitution. "This settlement has forced the Bush Administration into acknowledging that there are no second class religions in America, including among our nation's veterans," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "It is a proud day for religious freedom in the United States." Continued Lynn, "Sadly, the refusal of the federal government to recognize the Wiccan pentacle seems to have been built on inexcusable bias, a foundation that has crumbled under the press of this litigation." In the lawsuit, Americans United represented Roberta Stewart, whose husband, Sgt. Patrick Stewart, was killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2005; Karen DePolito, whose husband, Jerome Birnbaum, is a veteran of the Korean War who died last year; Circle Sanctuary, a prominent Wiccan congregation; Jill Medicine Heart Combs, whose husband is severely ill; and the Isis Invicta Military Mission, a Wiccan and Pagan congregation serving military personnel. The litigation was coordinated by Richard B. Katskee, AU assistant legal director with oversight by Ayesha N. Khan, AU legal director. They were assisted by other attorneys in the office, including Aram Schvey, AU litigation counsel. Americans United's attorneys uncovered evidence that the VA's refusal to recognize the Pentacle was motivated by bias toward the Wiccan faith. President George W. Bush, when he was governor of Texas, had opposed the right of Wiccans to meet at a military base in that state. Bush's opinion of Wiccans was taken into consideration when making decisions on whether to approve the Pentacle. "Many people have asked me why the federal government was so stubborn about recognizing the Wiccan symbol," said AU's Lynn. "I did not want to believe that bias toward Wiccans was the reason, but that appears to have been the case. That's discouraging, but I'm pleased we were able to put a stop to it." AU's Khan welcomed the settlement. "It is rank hypocrisy for this administration to claim publicly that it cares about religious freedom and equality but then to quietly and deliberately discriminate against a minority faith like Wicca," she said. "Until now, this administration's view has been that Wiccans are good enough to fight for their country, but not good enough to be acknowledged with a proper headstone." Under the terms of the Circle Sanctuary v. Nicholson settlement, the federal government will recognize the right of Wiccans to have the pentacle made available as an emblem of belief for inscription on headstones, grave markers and memorial plaques. The VA will add the symbol to its list of available emblems of belief. In addition, the VA will make markers bearing the pentacle — an encircled, intertwined five-pointed star — available to the families of Stewart, Birnbaum and others who request them. AU noted that the VA's list of 38 approved symbols for government gravestones, markers and plaques includes emblems for Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Hindus, Humanists and members of the Eckankar, Serbian Orthodox and United Moravian faiths. A Wiccan group first petitioned the VA for approval of the pentacle years ago. Officials at the agency dragged their feet on the request but in the interim approved the symbols of six other religions and belief systems. Among them was a Sikh emblem, which the VA approved in just a few weeks. Wicca is a nature-based religion grounded in pre-Christian beliefs. Circle Sanctuary says the Wiccan religion honors the Divine as both Mother and Father, encompasses love and respect of Nature, celebrates the cycles of Sun and Moon, and encourages adherents to live in harmony with other humans and the greater Circle of Life.

Updates from News Media

From Associated Press:

April 23, 2007 (MADISON, Wis.) - A nine-year quest by the Wiccans to have their religious symbol recognized by the federal government ended today under a settlement agreement. The U-S Veterans Administration agrees under the settlement to allow the five-pointed star on gravestones of veterans in national cemeteries. The pentacle joins 38 religious symbols already allowed by the V-A covering such religions as Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism. V-A spokesman Matt Burns says the government wanted to settle in the interest of the familes involved and to save taxpayers the expense of litigation. The lawsuit filed in November was scheduled for a trial in June in federal court in Madison. One of the plaintiffs was Wiccan organization Circle Sanctuary in Barneveld.

From Townhall.com:

VA Allows Wiccan Symbols on Headstones Monday, April 23, 2007 The Wiccan pentacle has been added to the list of emblems allowed in national cemeteries and on goverment-issued headstones of fallen soldiers, according to a settlement announced Monday. A settlement between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Wiccans adds the five-pointed star to the list of "emblems of belief" allowed on VA grave markers. Eleven families nationwide are waiting for grave markers with the pentacle, said Selena Fox, a Wiccan high priestess with Circle Sanctuary in Barneveld, Wis., a plaintiff in the lawsuit. The settlement calls for the pentacle, whose five points represent earth, air, fire, water and spirit, to be placed on grave markers within 14 days for those who have pending requests with the VA. "I am glad this has ended in success in time to get markers for Memorial Day," Fox said. The VA sought the settlement in the interest of the families involved and to save taxpayers the expense of further litigation, VA spokesman Matt Burns said. The agency also agreed to pay $225,000 in attorneys' fees and costs. The pentacle has been added to 38 symbols the VA already permits on gravestones. They include commonly recognized symbols for Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism, as well as those for smaller religions such as Sufism Reoriented, Eckiankar and the Japanese faith Seicho-No-Ie. "This settlement has forced the Bush Administration into acknowledging that there are no second class religions in America, including among our nation's veterans," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represented the Wiccans in the lawsuit. The American Civil Liberties Union said the agreement also settles a similar lawsuit it filed last year against the VA. In that case, the ACLU represented two other Wiccan churches and three individuals. VA-issued headstones, markers and plaques can be used in any cemetery, whether it is a national one such as Arlington or a private burial ground like that on Circle Sanctuary's property. Wicca is a nature-based religion based on respect for the earth, nature and the cycle of the seasons. Variations of the pentacle not accepted by Wiccans have been used in horror movies as a sign of the devil.