VA refuses to allow Wiccan symbol on soldier’s memorial.

***Dave does a pretty good job of writing up the injustice being done to the memory of one recently deceased American soldier so I’ll keep my comments brief. It involves this Washington Post story about a woman who’s been fighting with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to have a pentacle placed upon her dead husband’s, Sgt. Patrick D. Stewart, memorial marker at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley, Nevada. So far the department has refused to allow it despite having approved a number of other symbols:

The department has approved the symbols of 38 other faiths; about half of are versions of the Christian cross. It also allows the Jewish Star of David, the Muslim crescent, the Buddhist wheel, the Mormon angel, the nine-pointed star of Bahai and something that looks like an atomic symbol for atheists.

I was surprised to read that atheists are allowed a symbol. Apparently it’s the American Atheists logo, which I’m not overly fond of myself. There’s been a number of suggestions for an atheist symbol from various folks and I think I like the null set one ∅ the best, but that’s just me. The point being that I’m stunned that atheists (who aren’t members of a religion) are allowed a symbol and Wiccans aren’t.

This is especially surprising considering that Roberta Stewart, the soldier’s widow, has had the backing of a number of people including no less than a Senator:

Retired Army Chaplain William Chrystal, a United Church of Christ minister who was chaplain of Stewart’s National Guard unit, has strongly backed Roberta Stewart’s request.

“It’s such a clear First Amendment issue, I can’t even conceive of why they are not granting it, except for political reasons,” he said. “I think the powers that be are afraid they’ll alienate conservative Christians if they approve a symbol that connotes witches and warlocks casting spells and brewing potions.”

Nevada’s congressional delegation, including Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D), also has supported Roberta Stewart.

It’s a real kick in the teeth to think that this guy signed up to fight for his country only to be denied in death the symbol of his chosen religion on his memorial. Hell his dog tags even listed him as Wiccan so why all the fuss over his marker? Perhaps the following sheds some light on the issue:

But letters printed by Nevada newspapers indicate how much hostility Wiccans face. “I don’t see how anything that supports witchcraft and satanism can legitimately be called a religion,” one reader wrote to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Ignorance and bigotry win the day yet again.

20 thoughts on “VA refuses to allow Wiccan symbol on soldier’s memorial.

  1. Fascinating, ***Dave and Les.  I think you’re right- the VA is afraid of the fundies.  Shame on them for being cowards.

    After looking over the proposed atheist symbols, I’m inclined to agree with Les that the ∅ is the best illustrated there.  But do we really need a symbol?  Atheists are, after all, not united in a particular belief as various religious folk are.  Is there a symbol for people who don’t collect stamps?  If not, why should there be one for atheists?

    Surfing the links got me from the American Atheists to a story in the NY Times about a 72 ft. tall “replica” of the Statue of Liberty, just completed in front of a church in Memphis.  She has a few alterations from the original, however:  “Jehovah” is inscribed in her crown, she’s holding the Ten Commandments under one arm, and in place of the torch, she’s got a huge gold cross.

    And she has a tear on her cheek.  Why?  The pastor of the church, Mr. Williams, explains:

    […]the teardrop on his Lady is God’s response to what he calls the nation’s ills, including legalized abortion, a lack of prayer in schools and the country’s “promotion of expressions of New Age, Wicca, secularism and humanism”.

    Arrggh.

  2. Actually, just having an empty emblem there would make a fair amount of sense …

    My suspicion is not that the VA is afraid of the fundies, but that someone on the decision-making chain is, in fact, blocking it from happening, and the rest of the institution essentially covering up (out of institutional loyalty/embarrassment).

    Frankly, I’m just as bemused by the plethora of Christian symbols on the list.  One would think a simple cross would be sufficient, without going into all sorts of trademarked details and distinctions.

  3. I see that Les beat me to the punch with the Statue of Christianity story.  Great minds think alike.

    DoF, I think the misconception that atheism is a religion is natural to many religious folks.  Through their god-colored glasses, they see god everywhere, and thus they can only conceive of atheism as a turning away from, or a willful rejection, of god.  Therefore, atheism is defined for them as a kind of specific disability or refusal to experience the whole world, similar to the way color blindness is defined in terms of normal color vision.  For the religious, this renders atheism a religion in the sense that color blindness is vision: defective, but subsumed as a subset of the complete picture, which includes god.

    Of course, many believers have more nuanced views of atheism.  But time and again, I hear fundamentalists who don’t simply claim that atheism, or Darwinism, is a religion; they seem constitutionally incapable of even entertaining the idea that there are other ways of looking at it.

    For me atheism is simply the natural way of looking at the world- nothing special about it.  It’s religions that are idiosyncratic- like stamp collectors who specialize in just American, or just pre-20th century, or just animal picture stamps.  Then these stamp collectors go on to claim that people who don’t collect stamps at all are also stamp collectors, but they just don’t know it.  Of course, those of us atheists who are fascinated by religion could be likened to Zen stamp collectors, who collect no-stamps.

  4. DoF: I agree, that an ‘official’ atheist symbol would only lend credence to the notion that atheism is a religion.

    I agree but … what about a little circle – it’s all encompassing and it represents nothing.
    Mmmm. Then any sect LOL  of atheism could stick their stuff inside it as they already do – pentagrams, peace signs, anti-nuclear signs, etc.
    I don’t expect anyone to agree with me – I was just thinking out loudly. LOL
    Ha ha. I was just thinking of Jesus sending out a scouting party that reports the latest monstrosity back to him.
    Hey, sonny, they’ve still got those fucking crosses down there waiting for you.
    Well fuck ‘em; they can stick ‘em up their collective arses, the fuckwits.  LOL

  5. ***Dave, you might well be right about what’s holding up approval of the pentacle- one spokeswoman for the VA said she has “no idea why it’s taking so long”.

    And about the plethora of Christian symbols- like living organisms, religions adapt and speciate too.  And like similar kinds of birds who develop different songs or plumage to distinguish themselves from their cousins, religions dress themselves in their own rituals and symbols to distinguish themselves from their cousins.

  6. Note that the Nevada letters mentioned make the the all too common mistake of conflating Wicca and Satanism.  The Wiccans must surely be tired of it, and I’m sure the Satanists don’t want to be associated with something as “wussy” as Wicca.

    Personally I think the American Atheist symbol looks like it came from a ‘50s or ‘60s sci fi movie, or the original Star Trek.  Its not hard to imagine some guy in a jumpsuit and plastic boots with it on his breast.

  7. “Collecting no-stamps” – I love it!  But as atheists fundamentally we’re not even doing that. 

    There are no ‘sects’ of atheism because there is no ‘whole’ of atheism.  It’s just an assessment of how things are, like the tautology that at one time, all ignious rocks must have been very hot.  No one has the religion of ‘hotigniousity’.  Although that does sound pretty cool, now that I think about it.

  8. …like the tautology that at one time, all ignious rocks must have been very hot.

    Especially considering that “igne” is “fire” in Latin…

  9. Wait a minute here. . . That O with a slash through it is a symbol for a dead (/) female (O).

    A large inverted V is a symbol in logic for ‘nothing’—it is the opposite to the big O which symbolizes ‘everything.’

    Having said that, I can’t think of why we need a symbol—the only benefit I can see is that it might piss off the religious.

  10. If I get killed and they don’t allow the symbol of the religion I think has it the most right, I hope all my family and my fiancee’s family makes media war on them in a way they never thought possible.

  11. If I get killed …

    Are you a soldier? smile
    Cos this fracas is about a soldier being buried in a soldiers’ cemetery (the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley, Nevada) and not being allowed to have a symbol of his religion on his head-stone.
    I would hazard a guess that in any other cemetery ‘you’ can have whatever symbol ‘you’ want.
    Regardless, I’m with you, mate … the fucking bastards, they give me the shits – it’s not enough that a bloke puts his life on the line – THEY (those fucking bastards) reckon if you’re not one of them, you can go fry.
    I just can’t believe a buncha Vets aren’t storming that building and demanding justice.
    Then again, when I think of the pensions we’re on that could be put in jeopardy … NO! fuck it.

  12. Me: NO! fuck it.

    Just read that and I leave a bit of ambiguity as to which way I’d jump.
    I’d jump for the dead soldier’s rights!!

  13. I am not currently a soldier, but I have deeply considered working with some form of law enforcement, such as special weapons and tactics.  However, I was giving an opinion should I ever join the military ranks, im still not entirely sure if thats what is calling me or somethign else entirely.  Back on point, anyone should be able to have anything they want on their headstone, and fuck anything else.

  14. WhiteBlood: … considered working with some form of law enforcement …

    Don’t let anyone know you play in this playground then.
    They might think you’re a Commie or worse, an Atheist. LOL

  15. The closest thing I’l ever be is a Taoist, cause these guys stand apart from the christian bullshit and lies, these guys base their beliefs around something believable: physically tangeable spiritual energy.

    And I dont share my shit, even with people who love weapons more the I do grin

  16. WhiteBlood: … physically tangeable spiritual energy.

    Aaaah Chi.
    Bruce Lee made the one inch punch his own … and for a bit of comedyLOL
    It was all about CHI = energy.
    My crystal-powered sister-in-law’s youngest (24) daughter is … mmm … out there.
    A few years ago, in response to his not believing in the ghosts and energies and stuff in their 95 year old house they all lived in, ME asked if he could see the ball of energy she was juggling from hand to hand. He said: No.
    She asked: Can you feel this? and tossed it at him from 5 metres away. He fell on his arse.
    He ‘knows’ this stuff ‘can’t happen’ but …  LOL

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