Bush Administration Agrees To Approve Wiccan Pentacle For Veteran
Monday, April 23, 2007
Settlement In Americans United Lawsuit Comes After Discovery Of A
Pattern Of Bias Against Minority Faith
The Bush administration has conceded that Wiccans are entitled to have
the pentacle, the symbol of their faith, inscribed on government-
issued memorial markers for deceased veterans, Americans United for
Separation of Church and State announced today.
The settlement agreement, filed today with the U.S. District Court for
the Western District of Wisconsin, brings to a successful conclusion a
lawsuit Americans United brought against the U.S. Department of
Veterans Affairs (VA) in November.
The litigation charged that denying a pentacle to deceased Wiccan
service personnel, while granting religious symbols to those of other
traditions, violated the U.S. Constitution.
“This settlement has forced the Bush Administration into acknowledging
that there are no second class religions in America, including among
our nation’s veterans,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United
executive director. “It is a proud day for religious freedom in the
Continued Lynn, “Sadly, the refusal of the federal government to
recognize the Wiccan pentacle seems to have been built on inexcusable
bias, a foundation that has crumbled under the press of this
In the lawsuit, Americans United represented Roberta Stewart, whose
husband, Sgt. Patrick Stewart, was killed in combat in Afghanistan in
2005; Karen DePolito, whose husband, Jerome Birnbaum, is a veteran of
the Korean War who died last year; Circle Sanctuary, a prominent
Wiccan congregation; Jill Medicine Heart Combs, whose husband is
severely ill; and the Isis Invicta Military Mission, a Wiccan and
Pagan congregation serving military personnel.
The litigation was coordinated by Richard B. Katskee, AU assistant
legal director with oversight by Ayesha N. Khan, AU legal director.
They were assisted by other attorneys in the office, including Aram
Schvey, AU litigation counsel.
Americans United’s attorneys uncovered evidence that the VA’s refusal
to recognize the Pentacle was motivated by bias toward the Wiccan
faith. President George W. Bush, when he was governor of Texas, had
opposed the right of Wiccans to meet at a military base in that state.
Bush’s opinion of Wiccans was taken into consideration when making
decisions on whether to approve the Pentacle.
“Many people have asked me why the federal government was so stubborn
about recognizing the Wiccan symbol,” said AU’s Lynn. “I did not want
to believe that bias toward Wiccans was the reason, but that appears
to have been the case. That’s discouraging, but I’m pleased we were
able to put a stop to it.”
AU’s Khan welcomed the settlement.
“It is rank hypocrisy for this administration to claim publicly that
it cares about religious freedom and equality but then to quietly and
deliberately discriminate against a minority faith like Wicca,” she
said. “Until now, this administration’s view has been that Wiccans are
good enough to fight for their country, but not good enough to be
acknowledged with a proper headstone.”
Under the terms of the Circle Sanctuary v. Nicholson settlement, the
federal government will recognize the right of Wiccans to have the
pentacle made available as an emblem of belief for inscription on
headstones, grave markers and memorial plaques. The VA will add the
symbol to its list of available emblems of belief.
In addition, the VA will make markers bearing the pentacle — an
encircled, intertwined five-pointed star — available to the families
of Stewart, Birnbaum and others who request them.
AU noted that the VA’s list of 38 approved symbols for government
gravestones, markers and plaques includes emblems for Christians,
Muslims, Atheists, Hindus, Humanists and members of the Eckankar,
Serbian Orthodox and United Moravian faiths.
A Wiccan group first petitioned the VA for approval of the pentacle
years ago. Officials at the agency dragged their feet on the request
but in the interim approved the symbols of six other religions and
belief systems. Among them was a Sikh emblem, which the VA approved in
just a few weeks.
Wicca is a nature-based religion grounded in pre-Christian beliefs.
Circle Sanctuary says the Wiccan religion honors the Divine as both
Mother and Father, encompasses love and respect of Nature, celebrates
the cycles of Sun and Moon, and encourages adherents to live in
harmony with other humans and the greater Circle of Life.
*Earth,my body;Water,my blood;the Winds are my breath; Fire is my Spirit*