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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Fallen Guardsman's Wiccan faith unrecognized


Nevada National Guard Sgt. Patrick Stewart gave his life for his country when the Chinook helicopter he was in was shot down in Afghanistan in September.

But those wishing to honor Stewart, who should have his name on the memorial wall at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley, 34 miles east of Reno, would have a difficult time doing so.
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The space reserved for Stewart, right next to Chief Warrant Officer John Flynn, his comrade from Sparks who also died in the attack as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, is vacant.

Stewart was a follower of the Wiccan religion, which is not recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs for use in its cemeteries.

Stewart's widow, Roberta, said she will wait until her family's religion -- and its five-pointed star enclosed in a circle, with one point facing skyward -- is recognized for use on memorials before Stewart's plaque is installed.

"It's completely blank," Roberta Stewart said, pointing to her husband's place on the memorial.

She said she had no idea the pentacle could not be used on her husband's memorial plaque until she had to deal with the agency after the death of her husband.

"It's discrimination," she said. "They are discriminating against our religion.

"I had no idea that they would decline our veterans this right that they go to fight for," she said. "What religion we are doesn't matter. It's like denying who my husband is."

Patrick Stewart's dog tags, which Roberta Stewart wears around her neck, carry the word Wiccan on them to identify his religious beliefs. But she said he was never told the Wiccan religion was not officially recognized during his 13 years of military service in different capacities.

"By they way, if you die for your country, your religion won't be recognized, that would be nice to know," Roberta Stewart said.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and its National Cemetery Administration prohibit graphics on government-furnished headstones or markers other than those they have approved as "emblems of belief." More than 30 such emblems are allowed on gravestones and makers in veterans cemeteries, from the Christian cross to the Buddhist wheel of righteousness. A symbol exists for atheists too.

Roberta Stewart said she has decided to make the issue a public one because many Wiccans serve in the armed forces who might want the symbol included on a headstone or memorial marker.

Some Wiccans are private about their religion because of the concern their practices and beliefs might be misunderstood, she said. But Roberta Stewart said she and her husband were strong enough to let their beliefs be known in the community.

Patrick Stewart's religious preferences were made clear at his memorial service, which was held at Rancho San Rafael Park in an oak grove. Some of those speaking at the service talked of Stewart's beliefs and how, while they held different views, respected him for his values. Stewart was cremated, and his ashes have been scattered.

To read the rest of this story go here

To see the surprising list of emblems that ARE approved(like Islam for instance) , go here

1 Comments:

At 8:32 AM, Blogger The Bytch said...

This article has brought me to tears. I am Pagan. I am deeply disturbed & hurt byt this blatant disregard & disrespect of the man & soldier he was. I can only pray that the government will do the right thing.

 

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