Sorry, we can only recognize 38 religions

 Soldiers’ widows sue for pagan symbols on headstones 

POSTED: 8:11 p.m. EST, November 13, 2006  

WASHINGTON (AP) — The widows of two combat veterans sued the government Monday for not allowing Wiccan symbols on their husbands’ military headstones.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs allows military families to choose any of 38 authorized headstone images. The list includes 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.

The Wiccan pentacle, a five-pointed star surrounded by a circle, is not on the list, an omission that the widows say is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit was filed by Roberta Stewart, whose husband, Nevada National Guard Sgt. Patrick Stewart, was killed in combat in Afghanistan last year, and Karen DePolito, whose husband, Jerome Birnbaum, is a Korean War veteran who died last year.

Wiccans worship the Earth and believe they must give to the community. Some consider themselves “white” or good witches, pagans or neo-pagans. Approximately 1,800 active-duty service members identify themselves as Wiccans, according to 2005 Defense Department statistics.

Attorneys for Americans United, a group advocating separation of church and state, argued in legal papers that it makes no sense for Wiccans to be excluded. The Army allows Wiccan soldiers to list their faith on dog tags, Wiccan organizations are allowed to hold services on military installations and the Army Chaplains Handbook includes an explanation of the religion, attorneys said.

Stewart, whose husband was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, has sought federal government approval to affix the pentacle to the Veterans’ Memorial Wall in Nevada. Veterans officials denied the request but Nevada officials said they would erect a plaque with the symbol.

In memos and letters cited by the lawsuit, Lindee L. Lenox, director of memorial programs for the veterans agency, said the government was reviewing the process for evaluating and approving new emblems and would not accept new applications until the review was complete.

Circle Sanctuary, a Wiccan church located in Barneveld, Wisconsin, is also suing, saying Wiccans have been trying for years to get the religion recognized.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Western Wisconsin.


7 responses to “Sorry, we can only recognize 38 religions

  1. The Wiccan Church has been growing. I’ve been seeing more of it on the net etc. – Sounds pretty spooky to me.

  2. What exactly makes it spooky? What have you read/learned about Wicca that would lead you to believe that?

    After reading Margot Adler’s book, Drawing Down The Moon; I didn’t get a spooky impression. Actually, many Pagan traditions (Wicca being only one of them) referenced in that book struck me as having some fairly decent messages. However, you wouldn’t necessarily get that impression by reading material from, let’s say, a publisher with mainstream-religious interests. Centuries later, minority faiths get minimized by innuendo instead of burning at the stake.

    Anyway, I have read a wide range of Pagan authors, beyond Gerald Gardner’s view of Wicca, to get a full perspective of faiths based around agrarian events such as seasons and moon phases. While mainstream faith may clump them together, there is a significant variance in core beliefs for those whose interests are less prone to spiritual agenda.

    Proselytizing, by the way, is not generally a Pagan activity. Suggestions to read the material isn’t, by any means, intended to convert anyone. It is simply to encourage people to take in accurate information to form a more qualified opinion. I would also encourage open discussion with people of different faiths, but I would also keep in mind that no one person should be held as the example for the whole faith, regardless of what faith they profess.

  3. hmmm…you don’t find it strange in the least? The term ‘witch’ doesn’t seem awkward to you at all? I can see having an open mind, but come on. The devil himself is the biggest liar of all – of course there are some ‘fairly decent messages’ in that book. The lie wouldn’t work otherwise. One of my best friends is wiccan and he has meetings with other wiccans; he doesn’t talk to me about it much, doesn’t proselytize, but he wears the crystals and reads the tarot cards. Something just doesn’t seem right about the whole thing. In my past I have had some strange things happen fooling around with this stuff and I don’t suggest it.

  4. Faith, to me, is like clothing. It is something you choose, based on what you feel inside. Some people are happy with the one-size-fits all stuff you get off the rack, others tailor theirs so, to them, it fits better. Some people make their own clothes, and some choose not wear a stitch at all.

    Along with this, there are some words that have a lot of emotion tied to them. Witch happens to be one of those words. For centuries, it has been associated with many negative things including hate, fear, burning at the stake, etc. Mainstream religion, mainly Christianity, has had much to do with that campaign. That doesn’t mean that they hype is true, it just means that the campaign has been successful. It means that Christianity didn’t want to share the attention and some went to great lengths to see it wiped out. However, the ‘old ways’ could not be completely eliminated. There is so much in our society today that is left over from old traditions and beliefs. Things that have survived, although turned into superstition or treated like ‘wives tales’ including most of our holidays that was originally Pagan.

    While what was practiced back then may not be what is practiced today, I think some people are trying to reclaim those traditions as theirs. Unfortunately, the old social climates where non-mainstream faith could not be documented or their traditions openly passed down because of the negative press; much of what is practiced appears to be piecemealed together. Somehow this also seems to feed into how it gets minimized. Mainstream faith has a centuries-old campaign to disempower and discredit minority faiths, and then adds to that discrediting because their is no solid history of their faith. Oh, then when mainstream religion also points out the examples of bored teenagers with asymmetrical haircuts, black t-shirts, and the trappings of Paganism, somehow they get held up as examples of the faith, too. Unfortunately, regardless of your religion, the people who like to be most visible, don’t always reflect the practices of the whole faith.

    Wearing crystals, reading horoscopes and tarot cards, and all of those occult activities extend beyond Paganism; they are used by a wider scope of faiths, even if just occassional. Personally, there is no way I would use something like a OUIJA board again, but that is my choice. If people choose to use them, that is their choice. Much like the idea that they are free to choose their own faiths, they choose the behaviors to go along with it. If anyone appears to be “fooling around”, I would say that particular person is still discovering their spirituality.

  5. I’ll have to agree with you there, many people are ‘just shopping’ religion and I can see where this can make the religion that they just happen to be into at the moment suffer if they were strange people to begin with. Actually, I see a trend (in the media) discrediting anything spiritual. The powers that be seem to think that the world would be a better place without it.

  6. It is apparent not many of you have no idea what a real Witch is, or you have never read beyond the “fluffy-Wiccan” books appearing on bookshelves around the world. The incorrect stereotype of a Witch so many think of today dates back to the hysteria of the middle ages. In reality, the “Witches” or the “Wise Ones” were the healers in the villages. They took care of the sick, taught people about the herbs and planting seasons.

    Real Witches live life fully accepting responsibility for their own actions and words. They teach their children to be socially, environmentally and ethically responsible. We live our lives in tune to the seasons, and try to keep our lives in balance. We help the sick and the poor and the homeless. We stand up for the rights of the oppressed and disenfranchised, and create public awareness of environmental issues when called to do so.

    As far as the Devil .. he is not a part of our belief system. He is a Judeo-Christian creation and they are welcome to him. They needed a scapegoat for all their afflictions and troubles, so they “vilified” our Horned God of the Forest and Woodlands. They needed a name for the pure evil that dwells only in the heart of man, and they named it Satan.

    Yes there are a few out there who call themselves Witches and go around behaving in ways to induce shock and awe, but they are not true Witches. They have been embued with the Holy Spirit of the Media or they need much more attention than they can arouse from their families and friends.

    Please take some time getting to know who Witches or Pagans really are. You will be very surprised to learn that you are surrounded by us. We are everywhere .. doctors, lawyers, judges, teachers, soldiers, police or firemen. .. who knows .. probably even in the offices in DC. We are NOT the enemy. We don’t spend our days casting spells, or riding brooms, or killing babies, or cleaning the house with a sniggle of the nose. We are just like you. We just believe differently than you do. Isn’t that what this country is all about? When it stops being that everyone’s Pentacle or Crucifix will be replaced by a swastika.

  7. Lynne,

    I am a little confused as to who you are addressing here. Personally, I am very familiar with the Pagan culture as I have considered myself one for nearly 13 years. I am well aware of many of the issues Pagans face in the media and society. I have read a wide range of authors in this category and know that you sometimes have to sift through a lot of “fluff” to get to the substance. Unfortunately, when corporate bookstores put The Bible, The Koran, and Jewish religious text in the RELIGION section and Pagan text get dumped into the NEW AGE/OCCULT section; non-mainstream faith gets minimized right from the start. Along with the Silver Ravenwolf’s penned fluff, the NEW AGE section also gets packed with books on crop circles, alien abductions, UFOs, ghost sightings, and Elvis sightings. This is subjugation, pure and simple. They don’t burn people at the stake or have Witchhunters take property, but covert acts like this are intended to discredit the faith by associating it with other issues questioned by society. Trust me. I know all about it. I have even brought this topic to the attention of managers, local and corporate.

    Unfortunately, much of what you describe about witches is just ‘preaching to the choir.’ Those who appreciate what you say, already know the basic history and accept it. Those who still stand in judgement of non-Christians are not, nor is it likely they will listen. My experience tells me that many people who have fundamental beliefs in Christianity see learning about this as negative, and they aren’t about the just open up and accept things. Being confrontational, telling them that “we are everywhere”, or trying to defend the faith by saying “we have been around longer” or that “your religious roots lie in our faith” are just antagonistic (albeit somewhat true on both account).

    I think the approach that needs to be taken is that the Pagan community simply being visible in the community by being role models. People who talk about faith are a dime-a-dozen. Going out and being visible in the community by volunteering, coaching, participating in group activities, sports, coaching, interest groups, etc. is how you not only stand out, but are not as likely to be discredited. Participation can also be to write letters to the paper to clear up any misunderstanding, and donate to causes that are meaningful to you – as a Pagan.

    I think it also involves reminding people that one person or group doesn’t represent the whole religion. People like Laurie Cabot (Salem, MA famous witch & author) represent a fraction of the people out there. Also, legal or public cases where Wicca or Witchcraft or any spirituality is shown in a negative light; Pagans have to be vocal about it and stand up for each group. We also need to de-emphasize the “who is oldest” and “who has the most followers” routines, and should stop trying to defend ourselves as comparing our faith to mainstream faith. Pagan don’t need to validate their existence with the mainstream. We just need to focus on the spirit of working together to see everyone succeed.


    p.s. Although witches don’t have the nose-twitching ability, I wouldn’t mind being able to do that. That would rock!

    p.p.s. I would also be very careful drawing analogies or using symbols that are packed with emotion. Mentioning the swastika is still a flammable icon. I would simply refer to the Pentacle as a symbol of protection, and leave it at that. Historically, if any symbol exists long enough, especially over several centuries; it can end up with several meanings….much like how the definition of words can shift over time with usage. The word GAY in 1890 certainly didn’t have the same meaning it does today. The same is true for the Cross (KKK usage), The Star Of David (The Seal Of Moloch, currently used as a gang symbol, too), The 5 pointed star (the 5 wounds of Christ, the Goblins Cross, also used as a gang symbol), the peace symbol (in Roman times, it was called the Cross Of Nero, and used to represent the defeat of Christianity), and countless other examples exists as well.

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