Tuesday, May 30, 2006
You can die for your country and we'll just pretend you're a Christian, 'k?
War widow holds protest service for husband, awaits plaque decision
By TOM GARDNER
Associated Press Write
FERNLEY, Nev. (AP) -- A war widow who wants the government to put a Wiccan religious symbol on her husband?s memorial plaque held an alternative service Monday as a protest, hours before an official Memorial Day ceremony nearby.
"This is discrimination against our religion," Roberta Stewart said at the gathering of about 200 at a park east of Fernley for her late husband, Sgt. Patrick Stewart. "I ask you to help us remember that all freedoms are worth fighting for."
A few hours later and a few miles away in this pastoral community east of Reno, official Memorial Day ceremonies were conducted at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery.
The space reserved for a plaque in Stewart's name on a wall at the cemetery remains blank.
The Department of Veterans Affairs so far has refused to grant the Stewart family's request to have the Wiccan pentacle, a five-pointed star surrounded by a circle, placed on the government-issued plaque.
Stewart, 34, was killed in Afghanistan on Sept. 25 when a rocket-propelled grenade struck his helicopter. Four others also died. Stewart was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
Wiccans worship the Earth and believe they must give to the community. Some consider themselves "white"or good witches, pagans or neo-pagans.
"We are here today to honor American religious diversity of all faiths," the Rev. Selena Fox said at the alternative memorial service.
Fox, senior minister of a Wiccan group based in Wisconsin, said Stewart died defending the country that is denying him the right to express his religious freedom.
Jo Schuda, a spokeswoman for the VA, said Friday she did not know when a decision would be made on the request.
Approximately 1,800 active-duty service members identify themselves as Wiccans, according to 2005 Defense Department statistics
I'm struck by the image of that blank plaque. I can imagine it, surrounded by other plaques bearing crosses or Stars of David or sigils of other offically approved religions. I assume it bears Stewart's name, but perhaps not. But suppose it does. A name and nothing more, completely ignoring a lifetime of faith. You can't, of course, obliterate that faith -- regardless of how hard you try. Not marking a plaque or a grave does not mean that faith does not exist. It does not mean domination for the Approved Tirade (that being Christianity, Judiasm and Islam). It only provides an illusion.
Interestingly, to me anyway, the image of a blank plaque can be read as rather pagan. It can be seen as an image of the rune Wyrd (and yes, yes. I'm aware of the controversy surrounding the use of a blank rune in casting. I'm merely saying, lots of modern casters use it and it therefore can serve as a symbol of a pagan faith.). Wyrd is a totally blank rune, generally interpreted as signifying fate, the inevitable. Neither good nor bad, it simply is. Sacrifice is inevitable. Death is inevitable. Grief is inevitable. And, as anyone who follows an 'unapproved' path knows, fighting for recognition is inevitable. So, while Stewart's plaque (and, I'm assuming, at this point his gravestone) does not bear a particularly Wiccan symbol (although I know plenty of Wiccans who use runes), it may well already bear a pagan image.
Not that his wife should stop fighting. Frankly, she should be able to put anything on her husband's tomb she damned well pleases. We had a recent problem at our army base here where two kids were basically kicked out of Boy Scouts because they admitted they were Wiccan. There was a big to-do and eventually they were let back in. At which point, a bunch of other kids got pulled out by their parents because they didn't want their sons "preached to" by the Wiccan boys. Ironic, isn't it? Those boys had been in the club for a while, no one knew about their beliefs and wouldn't have, if the scout leader hadn't asked them what church they went to. (Funny story -- the info came out because the leader was trying to show the boys how religiously "diverse" the group was. He was saying how they had Baptists, Methodists, Catholics and a Pentecostal. No, seriously. That's what passes as religious diversity down here.) So, to keep peace, the boys parents took them out of Boy Scouts and have started a chapter of Spiral Scouts on base. And they've gotten lots of interested parties. A lot of people don't realize just how many Wiccan/Pagan/Heathen soldiers there are.
Which is why I think it's inevitable that we're gonna get recognition. It's like water, slowly reshaping the world. I hope Stewart wins and gets her pentagram. And I hope it becomes easier, for the next soldier, to have the government he/she died for recognize their belief system.