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Wiccans Seek Justice: Religious Liberty Is Still Not Secured For Minority Faiths

Author: Aradia Beatnik Betty
Posted: December 3rd. 2006
Times Viewed: 3,125

Today, December 2, 2006, I published part 1 of a series I am writing for the First Freedom First blog, discussing how the case relating to the VA's refusal to recognize the Wiccan Pentacle ties in to our core campaign message of religious liberty, separation of church and state, and No Religious Discrimination. I've published this on the campaign blog, as well as on my Livejournal blog, and Livejournal communities called 'md_pagans', 'interfaith_talk', and 'academicpagans'. If you are a member of Livejournal.com, feel free to join in on the discussion in any of those communities.

(Please visit the First Freedom First blog: http://www.firstfreedomfirst.org/blog/)

Wiccans Seek Justice: Religious Liberty Is Still Not Secured For Minority Faiths

By Bethany Moore,
Americans United for Separation of Church and State;
Project Manager of First Freedom First


An important religious liberty issue has manifested which threatens the very foundations of our country. In America’s early days, men and women were gathering around an idea of absolute religious freedom. Enshrined most distinctly in the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."; this is how so many beliefs have flourished so rightly in this great country.

America is different from other parts of the world by the living example of diversity that is found all over. America is where a Catholic family can live in harmony next door to a Baptist family, and down the street is a Buddhist family and next to them is a Jewish family whose children play soccer together at school. And on the next street over in this neighborhood of diversity lives an interfaith couple, the Atheist husband and his Buddhist wife, who were both raised Christian, and their son who chooses to study Christianity in his spare time.

All are supported by an idea engrained in America that people of all religions and philosophies are free to live, worship and be recognized, and no one faith or tradition is "better" than another in the eyes of the government.

This is the concept of religious freedom that speaks to me and so many other Americans who value the constitutional foundation that our forefathers laid down for us and fought to preserve for all mankind.

However, for Pagan and Wiccan members and families, this feeling of being part of a diverse American community has been stifled. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has refused to recognize the Wiccan Pentacle (a five-pointed star) for use on government-issued military headstones or memorial plaques. Thirty-eight other symbols are recognized by the VA, but there has been a nine-year blockade for getting this symbol "approved" for use.

For Roberta Stewart, religious freedom in this country is in great question. It was in September 2005 when her husband, the late soldier Sgt. Patrick Stewart died in combat in Afghanistan when his Chinook helicopter was shot down, yet still she has been repeatedly denied the right to honor her husband and their shared spirituality on his grave marker.

In so many instances, equal treatment is generally upheld in America, except in the case of Wiccans and Pagans. As a Pagan myself, I’ve embraced the outreach and now litigation that Americans United for Separation of Church and State has initiated against the Department of Veterans Affairs . On November 13, suit was filed against the VA to get the Pentacle approved.

(See: http://www.au.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8760&abbr=cs_)

The VA is attacking the religious freedom of Wiccans and Pagans everywhere, thus discriminating against a minority religious group, and showing preference over the "approved" religions. The list of symbols itself begs the question of why the VA needs to "approve" symbols of faith to begin with, with criteria that is not clear-cut, thus effectively validating or invalidating the religious freedom of one faith-group over another.

Embracing this litigation is a difficult pill to swallow, as I never thought that the government would ever officially discriminate against any spiritual path.

So why not include Wicca? What could possibly warrant the exclusion of one religious group for a now nine-year battle with the VA? Is it because Wicca is not a "large and powerful" organized religion? Is it because it is not entirely familiar to everyone? Is it because Wicca does not have an established hierarchy of leadership?

We have no central leader like the Pope at the Vatican or the Dalai Lama of the Tibetan Buddhists. There is no high council of Witches in Salem, Mass., or anywhere else, who decides the fate or direction of those who profess Wicca or Paganism as their faith. Such a structure is contrary to the tenants of Wicca at its core.

Despite the attempts at open dialogue with VA leadership, the door has been shut in Wiccans’ faces for recognition of the Pentacle. VA officials respond to dialogue with convoluted answers, thus continuing to harm and insult all Wiccans with their complacency on the matter.

Nine years ago, Wiccans began to ask for the Pentacle to be included in this list of symbols, but the only answer they heard was "that’s the way things are at the VA".

Plainly said, the VA is committing an injustice to Wiccans and Pagans everywhere, and is failing to uphold religious freedom in America by doing so.



*** Read Barry Lynn’s commentary from September’s Church and State magazine titled "Wiccans and the VA: The Case for Decency and Common Sense at http://www.au.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle and id=8501 and abbr=cs_

---

Feel free to contact the author, Bethany Moore, at moore@au.org, with any questions, feedback, support, etc.
Thank you for the opportunity to share these words with others at Witches Voice.

~B



Copyright: Bethany Moore



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