Veterans Department Must Respect Diversity, Says AU

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has urged the Department of Veterans Affairs to respect religious diversity and allow a Wiccan symbol on a memorial marker for a solider who died in Afghanistan.

Americans United took action after learning that Roberta Stewart, the widow of Sgt. Patrick D. Stewart, had been denied the right to place a Wiccan pentacle on her deceased husband’s memorial marker. Sgt. Stewart was a highly decorated serviceman who was killed in Afghanistan in 2005, and his widow has since repeatedly sought to have his faith recognized.

In a June 7 letter to officials at the veterans department, Americans United requested that Stewart’s widow be permitted to place the pentacle on her husband’s marker and that the department extend that same right to other Wiccan families.

“A brave man died in service to his country,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, in a press statement about the letter. “The federal government has a duty to allow his widow to honor his chosen faith. Aside from the constitutional issues raised, this is a simple matter of justice and common decency.”

Wiccans have been trying for many years to persuade the Nat­ional Cemetery Administration to add the pentacle to its list of approved emblems for government headstones, markers and plaques.

“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 the veterans department.