18 November 2006

Freedom of religion must apply equally.

[A friend sent me this. If freedom of religion means
anything to you, please realise that its supposed to
include all religions, not just the "Big Three"
(Christianity, Judism and Islam). Guaranteeing rights
of all religion keeps the rights of yours in place.
(Address to show support etc, at the bottom.)]

Government's refusal to recognize Wiccan symbol leads to lawsuit

By The Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. — The Star of David is OK, as are more than a dozen variations of the Christian cross.Even the atomic whirl used by atheists gets the thumbs-up from the federal government. But a Wiccan symbol representing earth, air, fire, water and spirit?

Forget it.

Blame it on government red tape or religious discrimination, Selena Fox is tired of fighting to get her religion's symbol recognized by the federal government for veterans' grave markers. So now she and other followers of the Wiccan faith are
taking the government to court.

A federal lawsuit filed Monday accuses the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs of violating the constitutional rights of Wiccans because the government does not allow its symbol on veterans' headstones in national cemeteries.

"I honestly think there must be some people who don'twant to acknowledge that the Wiccan religion should be entitled to the same rights as other religions,'' said Fox, who is senior minister of the Wiccan Circle Sanctuary in Barneveld, Wis.

Roberta Stewart thinks she knows why Wiccans have been denied. "I believe it's the misconception of devil worship and the way the pentacle has been misused,'' she said.

The widow of a soldier killed in Afghanistan last year, Stewart has waged her own personal war to see the pentacle placed on the tombstone of her husband, Nevada National Guard Sgt. Patrick Stewart.

Stewart, whose husband was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, was rejected by federal veterans' officials when she sought approval to affix the pentacle to the Veterans' Memorial Wall in Nevada, but state officials said they would erect a plaque with the symbol.

Even though she is getting the symbol for her husband, Stewart said she had the plight of other families in mind when she decided to file the lawsuit. Joining her are Karen DePolito, of Utah, whose husband, Jerome Birnbaum, is a Korean War veteran who died last year; Circle Sanctuary; and Isis Invicta Military Mission, a Wiccan and Pagan congregation serving military personnel based in Geyserville, Calif.

The lawsuit claims the VA has made "excuse after excuse'' for more than nine years for not approving the pentacle, and argues that constitutional rights of freedom of speech, religion and due process have been violated by the department's not acting on requests to allow the symbol. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Madison and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, seeks an order compelling the VA to make a decision.

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.

The VA issued a statement Monday that outlined the procedure under way to create uniform standards under which new symbols can be accepted, but did not comment on the lawsuit itself.

Legal papers filed by attorneys for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a religious liberty watchdog group, said 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.

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.

An increasing number of Wiccans are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, while a number of older veterans are getting closer to death, making it imperative that the government act soon, Fox said. Three cremated remains of veterans are unmarked in the Circle Sanctuary cemetery, Fox said, a situation she called "ridiculous.'' She said three headstones at Arlington National Cemetery are also awaiting the symbol.

All Stewart said she wants is government approval of the pentacle, nothing more and nothing less. She wants the lawsuit to send a message, she said, that the government can't pick and choose which faiths appear on headstones.

Please repost this where others may know and feel free to contact the WPPA to show your support at:

Wiccan/Pagan Press Alliance, c/o Black Forest
Publishing, P.O. Box 1392, Mechanicsburg, PA

1 comment:

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