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  • Monday, November 13, 2006


    US Military Headstones and Religious Symbolism

    I wrote earlier about the effort to allow the pentacle on Wiccan military gravestones as a symbol of the soldier's religion. A CNN story says that the wives of two dead soldiers who were Wiccan are suing the government to allow the pentacles on their headstone markers.

    The lawsuit was filed by Roberta Stewart, whose husband, Nevada National Guard Sgt. Patrick Stewart, was killed in combat in Afghanistan last year, and Karen DePolito, whose husband, Jerome Birnbaum, is a Korean War veteran who died last year.

    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.

    This is a little misleading in some ways. It's important to remember that neo-paganism is a general category which encompasses a number of specific religions, one being Wicca. Some people who have championed the cause of putting the Pentacle on these soldiers' headstones have claimed that the pentacle is the "pagan" equivalent of the Christian Cross or Judaic Star of David. It is not. It is more specifically representative of Wicca. Ásatrú, another neo-pagan religion, would have a different symbol.

    This might seem like hair splitting to anyone who has never heard of these religions but it matters. A mix-up would be akin to putting a Star of David on a Christian's grave or a Cross on a Jewish grave. The point is that if soldiers want a symbol representative of their religion put on their grave, they should be allowed to have it.

    The Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) officially recognizes some 39 symbols for use on markers. Go on, look through them. It's an interesting collection. I'm curious about how many adherents to Eckankar have been in the US military yet it has an officially recognized VA symbol. (I find it tres amusing that images of Scientology and Christian Science symbols aren't on the VA page for copyright reasons.)

    Even Christianity Today (subtitle: A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction) had an editorial-type piece supporting the cause of putting the symbol on Wiccan headstones:
    If we are to keep faith with Sgt. Stewart and the other brave men and women who have died in service to the United States, then we must remember that all rights hang together. That is both the genius and the strength of the American system.

    Although our country was founded on a Judeo-Christian base, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution understood that religious freedom was for everyone, not just Christians. In other words, the only way that freedom can prevail for Christians is for Christians to stand up and fight for the minority beliefs and religions of others.

    Without it, freedom will most likely be lost. And we will be left wondering whose freedoms we are really fighting for.

    This is a refreshing counterpoint to those Christians who use the same starting point (country founded on a Judeo-Christian base) to demand that the government be explicitly Christian. The implicit message is that other religions don't matter, aren't real, or are a threat to Christianity. The idea of religious tolerance and interfaith respect seems to rouse amazing amounts of bile in some Christian Fundamentalists.

    Religious pluralism: It's not just a good idea; it's the law.

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