Americans United Commends President Bush For Apologizing To Wiccan War Widow

President Says Deceased Veteran's Wife Should Have Been Included In Meeting With Families Of Fallen Service Personnel

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today commended President George W. Bush for his apology to a Wiccan war widow who was excluded from a private meeting with family members of deceased soldiers in Nevada earlier this week.

Roberta Stewart, whose husband Sgt. Patrick Stewart was killed in combat in Afghanistan, was not invited to meet with Bush and other family members of soldiers who have died in combat. Other members of Sgt. Stewart’s family were invited to the meeting.

Stewart told local media that she was concerned that her exclusion was an intentional snub for her leadership in an Americans United-sponsored lawsuit that forced the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to allow the Wiccan symbol of faith on government-issued grave markers.

Today, Bush called Stewart and apologized for failing to invite her to the meeting with veterans’ families. He also said he does not believe the Wiccan faith should be discriminated against.

Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, “The president has done the right thing, and his apology to Stewart should be commended. All veterans of war, regardless of their faith, should be honored and treated with the utmost respect, especially from their commander-in-chief. We are pleased the president recognized his slight of Stewart was wrong.”

Yesterday, Lynn called on the President to apologize to Stewart for leaving her out of the Nevada meeting.

Stewart’s husband died when his Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan in 2005. The Stewarts practice Wicca, and she requested that the VA issue her husband’s memorial marker engraved with a symbol of their faith, the pentacle. The VA denied her request, and in 2006, Americans United sued the federal agency on behalf of Stewart, two other widows, Circle Sanctuary and Isis Military Mission.

Today, during an interview on Lynn’s nationally syndicated radio program “Culture Shocks,” Stewart also commended Bush for apologizing.

“I just now got off the phone and personally spoke with President Bush,” Stewart told Lynn. “I am happy to say that he did give me his deepest condolences. I will give him the benefit of the doubt and I do have to give him kudos that he at least took the time to call, give his condolences, and apologize for the VA problem.

“He apologized for the exclusion and the error that was made and said that he admired me for my spirit and thanked me for accepting his apology and said that he hoped he would have the opportunity to someday meet me,” Stewart continued. “I was very pleased with the way the conversation went, very pleased that he did call and put this right.”

Lynn asked Stewart if the president touched upon her Wiccan faith. She replied that the president told her that “he would not discriminate against someone because of their religion.”

Earlier this year, the VA settled Americans United’s lawsuit and announced that it would recognize the pentacle as a symbol of faith for use on soldiers’ gravestones, markers and memorials.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.