VA Approves Wiccan Pentacle GravemarkerThe American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State brought separate lawsuits against the Veterans Administration; both lawsuits concerned the Veterans Administrations failure to make a decision regarding allowance of Wiccan Pentacle grave markers in National Cemeteries. The VA announced reachment of a settlement Monday regarding the suit brought by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, this settlement also resolved the ACLU's mirror lawsuit. The lawsuits requested that the VA be forced to make a decision regarding use of the Pentacle; the VA has now agreed to allow the Pentacle to be used as a grave marker in national cemeteries.
The ACLU and AU's lawsuits alleged many things including that the VA's hesitancy in approving the symbol resulted from President Bush's opinions towards Wicca. While Governor of Texas President Bush expressed his view that Wicca was not a real religion when he learned that the military allowed Wiccan soldiers to meet on military bases for religious services. He disagreed with the military's recognition of Wicca as a religion and stated that he wished the military would change their minds. The AU's lawsuit claimed that the VA's actions were based on Bush's opinions. The AU and the ACLU also argued that the VA's practice of keeping a list of allowable religious symbols, while excluding others was in violation of soldier's constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of religion. The contradiction of soldiers who fight, and many who give their lives, defending our freedoms being denied the right to have a grave marker from their chosen religion was apparent to many. The subject was given much attention by the blogosphere and covered heavily on message boards where the VA received much criticism for their actions from Wiccans and non-wiccans alike.
The first request for a pentacle grave marker was filed with the VA by a Wiccan church nine years ago. The request was filed by the church on behalf of the family of a deceased Wiccan soldier. The VA neither approved nor denied the symbol. Had the VA denied the symbol then the soldier's family would have been able to contest the denial in court. During this time six other religious symbols were approved. One symbol was approved within weeks of the application. The Va's refusal to make a decision concerning the pentacle effectively mired the families of fallen, Wiccan service members in legal limbo until the ACLU and AU intervened. The mirror lawsuits requested that the VA make a decision to end the quagmire, and opened the way for more litigation if the VA denied the symbol.
The settlement contained a provision promising Pentacle grave markers for all fallen soldiers whose families have applied for one to be placed on the tombstones within 90 days. The settlement also agreed that the VA would pay $225,000 for court costs and legal fees. The ACLU represented the plaintiffs: the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, and the Correllian Nativist Church. The suit also named petitioners: Kathleen Egbert, Patricia Darlene Howell Corneilson, and Scott Stearn. The former two are family members of deceased Wiccan service members and the latter is an ailing Wiccan veteran who wishes to have the pentacle grave marker placed on his tombstone after his passing. The AU represented: the Circle Sanctuary Church. The AU also named petitioners: Roberta Stewart, Karen Depolito, and Jill Medicine Heart Combs all family members of ailing or deceased Wiccan service members. The Isis Invicta military mission, a Wiccan and pagan congregation for military members was also named in the suit.
The settlement came after the AU and VA presented oral arguments to the court on April 10th. The Pentacle now joins 38 other approved religious symbols on the VA's list. The ACLU and the AU lauded the decision as a victory for the cause of religious freedom.