Tuesday, April 24, 2007

VA to Give Pentacles for Fallen Wiccan Soldiers

By Kathleen Richards
Tue, Apr 24, 2007 at 4:54 PM

In what's being hailed as a victory for followers of Wicca, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has added the pentacle to the list of approved emblems allowed in national cemeteries and on government-issued headstones of fallen soldiers, according to an article on MSNBC.com. The decision is the result of a settlement between the VA and a broad coalition of organizations and individuals, who initiated the fight more than nine years ago. Selena Fox, a Wiccan high priestess and founder of Lady Liberty League, says eleven families are waiting for grave markers with the pentacle for their deceased loved ones.

As the Express previously reported, Wicca, the biggest subgroup under Paganism, has grown into one of the top four faith groups in the U.S., drawing between 300,000 and 1.2 million followers. While tolerance toward the religion is growing, many still face discrimination.

"This settlement has forced the Bush Administration into acknowledging that there are no second class religions in America," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represented the Wiccans in the lawsuit.

The Wiccan pentacle is a five-pointed star, representing the earth, air, fire, water, and spirit. Currently, the VA recognizes 38 symbols for a wide variety of religions, including Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Sufism Reoriented, Eckiankar, and the Japanese faith Seicho-No-Ie.

The full agreement reads as follows:

"Within 14 days from the execution of this Stipulation, VA will provide a headstone, marker, or memorial plaque (of a type suitable for placement in the relevant cemetery) inscribed with a Pentacle for Sgt. Patrick Stewart, PFC Jerome Birnbaum, PFC James Price, Abraham and Rosemary Kooiman and any other eligible individuals who have submitted complete applications for Pentacle-inscribed headstones, markers, or memorial plaques, and who have been identified before the execution of this Stipulation. VA will coordinate with the Department of the Army, which controls Arlington National Cemetery, to promptly order headstones, markers, or memorial plaques inscribed with a Pentacle for Abraham and Rosemary Kooiman and for any other eligible individuals who have submitted complete applications for Pentacle-inscribed headstones, markers, or memorial plaques, and who have been identified before the execution of this Stipulation."

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