Americans United Protests Presidential Snub Of Wiccan War Widow

AU's Lynn Says Bush Should Apologize For Mistreatment of Stewart, Affirm Respect For Americans Of All Faith Perspectives

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today blasted President George W. Bush for shunning a war widow who successfully challenged the administration’s refusal to allow the use of the Wiccan symbol of faith on government-issued grave markers.

On Tuesday, following an address to the American Legion’s national convention in Reno, Bush met with northern Nevada family members of soldiers who have perished in combat. Roberta Stewart, whose husband, Sgt. Patrick Stewart was killed in combat in Afghanistan, was not invited, even though other relatives of Sgt. Stewart were.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Sgt. Stewart’s parents and brother were invited to the brief, private meeting with the president. So was the widow of one of the other National Guardsmen killed with Sgt. Stewart when their Chinook helicopter was shot down.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, condemned Bush’s snub of Stewart.

“The president should issue an apology to Roberta Stewart,” Lynn said. “She stood courageously for religious freedom for all soldiers, and the president was wrong to treat her so shabbily.”

In 2006, Americans United sued the VA in federal court representing Stewart, two other Wiccan widows, Circle Sanctuary and Isis Invicta Military Mission. AU argued that the VA’s refusal to recognize the pentacle as a symbol of faith violated the religious liberty rights of Wiccan service members and their families and subverted the separation of church and state.

Earlier this year, the VA settled the lawsuit and announced it would include the pentacle on its list of religious symbols that are permitted on soldiers’ gravestones, markers and memorials.

During the litigation, AU attorneys unearthed evidence that the VA’s refusal to recognize the pentacle may have been motivated by bias toward the Wiccan faith. It appeared that the VA did not want to recognize the faith, which President Bush has publicly derided in the past.

Lynn said the president’s snub of Roberta Stewart smacked of retaliation for her public and successful stand against the administration policy.

“President Bush seems to be continuing a pattern of hostility toward the Wiccan faith,” he said. “That’s an outrage. America is a nation of great religious diversity, and all public officials, especially the president, have an obligation to serve all of the people. Our Constitution mandates equal treatment of all faiths.”

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.