Sgt. Patrick Stewart died for his country. He was thirty-four years old when his National Guard helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. He was awarded both the Bronze Star and The Purple Heart for heroism. The young men who choose to serve our country believe in the principles of our constitution, including freedom of religion. Sgt. Stewart was a practicing Wiccan. The family of Sgt. Stewart is now battling the Department of Veterans Affairs to have the Wiccan symbol, a circle and a five pointed star, placed on his grave marker, as he wished. While the Veterans Affairs has approved over thirty different religious symbols, after nine years of consideration they still have not recognized Wicca as an approved religion. Only approved religious symbols may appear on the grave markers of our soldiers in veteran cemeteries.
Wicca is an Earth-based, nature centered, neopagan religion that was founded in the UK during the late 1940’s. Wicca has embraced the symbols, seasonal days of celebration, beliefs and deities from 800 BCE Celtic societies. In the U.S., Canada and Europe, the religion has rapidly gained followers. Many see it as a rejection of traditional, institutionalized religion. Wiccans worship a male and female deity, known as the Lady and Lord. For some Wiccans, these deities are just symbols and not living entities, for others they are aspects of single deity, in addition, other Wiccans recognize the existence of many ancient gods and goddesses. The primary tenant of the Wicca religion is “An it harm none, do what you will.” Which means that as long as an action harms no one, including yourself, it is permitted. They also believe that whatever you put out will come back to you three fold.
We ask our soldiers to go into war, to fight in wars we choose for them. They go willingly, knowing they may loose their lives. Often the thing that gets our soldiers through what they see in war is their faith. It provides them comfort during life and they should take that comfort with them into death. No soldier who has died serving his country should be denied anything he wants on his grave marker. This is a small price to pay for his service. We, the people of the United States, owe him that much.