Nevada VA allows Wiccan pentacle for soldier's memorial plaque
September 15, 2006
WASHINGTON — Nevada Veterans Affairs officials announced Wednesday that they will allow the family of a guardsman killed in Afghanistan to use a Wiccan symbol on his memorial plaque, even though national VA officials have not authorized such a display.
Sgt. Patrick Stewart, a Nevada National Guard soldier, was killed in a helicopter attack in Afghanistan in September 2005. Since then, his wife, Roberta, has been fighting with the National Cemetery Administration to get permission to put a Wiccan pentacle, or five-pointed star, on his marker to honor his beliefs.
She called Wednesday’s announcement by the state a welcome surprise.
“We’ve been waiting for a year for this, and I’m so grateful to the state for this,” she said. “This will be the first time the Wiccan pentacle is put on a veteran’s memorial, and it gives me the strength to go on with our fight.”
Cemetery officials currently allow 38 different religious symbols to be put on veterans’ headstones and plaques, but none for pagans or Wiccans.
VA officials have not added any new symbols to that list since revamping their criteria for images last year. Stewart and several Wiccan churches have applied to include the pentacle among the recognized symbols, but they have heard little response about their request for months.
But this week the Nevada Office of Veterans Affairs announced it had completed a legal review and determined that state officials have sole authority over veterans’ cemeteries within the state.
After consulting with the attorney general and Stewart’s family, they announced they will allow the pentacle to be put on his plaque at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Wall in Fernley.
In a statement, Nevada VA executive director Tim Tetz said the decision was the result of a promise to “make certain Sgt. Stewart received recognition for his contributions as an Army soldier, a Nevadan, and an American hero.”
National VA officials had no comment on the state’s decision, or whether Nevada’s move could hurt their ability to control what headstones and messages are displayed at veterans’ cemeteries nationwide.
Stewart’s application for the pentacle, along with another one from the Wisconsin-based Circle Sanctuary, are still pending, VA officials said.
The Rev. Selena Fox, senior minister at Circle Sanctuary, said Wiccans there have been petitioning for the symbol for years, and they see Nevada’s decision as an important step.
“But I continue to be dismayed, disappointed and disgusted with the VA and its continual refusal to give us our symbol of belief,” she said. “I think that’s a disgrace.”
Stewart said she hopes to hold a ceremony to unveil the plaque and pay tribute to her husband later this month.
According to 2005 Defense Department statistics, more than 1,800 active-duty servicemembers identified themselves as Wiccans.