Wiccan controversy stimulates healthy debate
November 15, 2006
By most accounts, the public appears to be sympathetic with the widows of two combat veterans who are trying to convince the government to allow Wiccan symbols on their husbands’ military headstones.
We join those who believe Roberta Stewart of Fernley is correct in her belief that the Wiccan faith is as deserving of federal recognition as any other faith. Indeed, religious freedom is the principle that gave birth to this nation more than 200 years ago.
Now that Stewart has convinced the state of Nevada to let her place the Wiccan symbol on her husband’s memorial, she is going national by filing suit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. That is probably as it should be to settle once and for all that there is no “official” religion in the United States and worshippers of every persuasion are deserving of the same rights. We predict it is only a matter of time before the VA adds the Wiccan faith to its list of recognized religions and from that day forward the Wiccan symbol will be allowed on the graves of Wiccans who die defending this nation’s freedoms.
What tends to get lost in the indignation toward the government over Stewart’s case is the fact that Wicca, essentially the worship of nature, is decentralized and has no official clearinghouse or recognized leader. As a result, there is disagreement about which symbol should be used. Stewart has argued for a pentagram – a five-pointed star inside a circle. But there are many branches of the Wiccan faith and many variations of the symbol. We did a quick search of the Internet and found no less than 12 symbols associated with the Wiccan faith, including some that have no resemblance whatsoever to the pentagram.
Religious freedom notwithstanding, it is easy to see why the people at the VA might want clarification on which symbol to use if and when the agency decides to add Wicca to its list of approved religions. Who’s to say which symbol should be used on military gravesites? If the VA is going put symbols on the headstones of fallen Wiccan soldiers, it needs some assurance it is using the right one, both as a practical matter and as a matter of respect. The Wiccans themselves need to bear some responsibility in this regard.
While in some respects this case has been sensationalized, it has at the same time stimulated a healthy debate about principles we hold dear in this country, including religious freedom, equal treatment under the law, honoring the sacrifices of our military and basic fairness. At least in the United States religious fervor has not yet reached the point where we settle these things by kidnapping, beheading or blowing up those with whom we disagree. That is something for which the followers of every faith can truly give thanks.
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• This editorial appeared in The Lahontan Valley News