I've known about this story for a while, but since it's Memorial Day weekend, Associated Press reports on the plight of a dead hero with the wrong religion.
(AP) - RENO, Nev.-Nevada officials are pressing the Department of Veteran Affairs to allow the family of a soldier killed in Afghanistan to place a Wiccan symbol on his headstone.
Federal officials so far have refused to grant the requests of the family of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, 34, who was killed in Afghanistan last September when the Nevada Army National Guard helicopter he was in was shot down.
"Every veteran and military member deserves recognition for their contributions to our country," said Tim Tetz, executive director of the Nevada Office of Veterans Services.
The state's top veterans official said Thursday that he was "diligently pursuing" the matter in cooperation with Gov. Kenny Guinn, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev.
"Sgt. Stewart and his family deserve recognition for their contributions to our country," Tetz said.
"It's unfortunate the process is taking so long, but I am certain Sgt. Patrick will ultimately receive his marker with the Wiccan symbol," he said.
Sgt. Patrick was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
A full list of the approved religious symbols is here. As I said, I knew about this story for a while. The first time I checked on it, I found a link on the Veterans Administration's headstone catalog that led to information about a request for approval of a religious symbol. That information is now gone.
I thought maybe I could still find the info as a form, so I searched "VA form" on Google's Uncle Sam government search, I wound up with http://www.va.gov/vaforms. The site description reads, "This site provides public access to all VA forms that are appropriate to be on the web." A search using their search engine shows that a request for a new religious symbol is not 'appropriate to be on the web'. Finally, I googled the entire web and found this email response posted on a wiccan forum, Military Pagan Network Discussion Board.
Response (Dept of Veterans Affairs) 04/05/2005 08:24 AM
Dear Mr. Stearns;
Thank you for the inquiry concerning the Wiccan emblem.
We accept and review written requests, on a case-by-case basis, to include an organizations emblem on our approved list of emblems for Government headstones and markers.
In order for us to make a determination to include a suggested emblem on our approved list, the following information must be provided:
* A written request to include the specific emblem, signed by the recognized head of your organization,
* A brief description of your organization, with specific information, to include national officers, number of chapters, the total number of members and years of operation in the United States, and affiliation with other organizations,
* A 3-inch high reproducible, camera-ready copy of the requested emblem so that our contractors can determine if the emblem can be easily and clearly reproduced on a headstone or marker in a production-line environment.
Please address further correspondence to:
National Cemetery Administration
Memorial Programs Service (41A1)
810 Vermont Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20420
If we may be of further service, please contact us.
It took all my skill as a google monkey to get that - trust me, it's not on any government server that google searches. I even ran that boilerplate through Uncle Sam - nuthin'.
I've written before that, by recognizing religion, the United States government puts itself in a position of deciding which religions are real. And by setting the bar for a 'real' religion so high, Wicca is shut out. It can't possibly meet the first or second qualifications. Wicca has no central church, each coven is an organization unto themselves, so there's no 'recognized head'. The 'number of chapters' requirement is likewise impossible to determine. Even atheism and humanism have symbols - even thought they'd fail for the same reason Wicca does. One requirement that is possible, however, is 'number of members'.
According to ReligiousTolerance.org, "The fastest growing religion (in terms of percentage) is Wicca -- a Neopagan religion that is sometimes referred to as Witchcraft. Numbers of adherents went from 8,000 in 1990 to 134,000 in 2001. Their numbers of adherents are doubling about every 30 months. Wiccans in Australia have a very similar growth pattern, from fewer than 2,000 in 1996 to 9,000 in 2001. 10 In Canada, Wiccans and other Neopagans showed the greatest percentage growth of any faith group. They totaled 21,080 members in 1991, an increase of 281% when compared with 1990."
Since when does a religion that had 134,000 followers in the 2001 census qualify as a fake religion? I'm sure if you could ask Sgt. Patrick Stewart, he'd tell you that his faith was deep enough that he wouldn't want to spend eternity with 'None of the Above' marked over his head.
This Memorial Day weekend, we ought to remember that, too.