This is perhaps the most awesome piece of legal news I’ve heard in a while. The Americans United for Separation of Church and State have finally settled their case against the US Dept. of Veterans Affairs:
For those that missed where this all started, the Washington Post covered the story last July:
At the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in the small town of Fernley, Nev., there is a wall of brass plaques for local heroes. But one space is blank. There is no memorial for Sgt. Patrick D. Stewart.
That’s because Stewart was a Wiccan, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has refused to allow a symbol of the Wicca religion — a five-pointed star within a circle, called a pentacle — to be inscribed on U.S. military memorials or grave markers.
From the Americans United press release, we now learn:
Americans United’s attorneys uncovered evidence that the VA’s refusal to recognize the Pentacle was motivated by bias toward the Wiccan faith. President George W. Bush, when he was governor of Texas, had opposed the right of Wiccans to meet at a military base in that state. Bush’s opinion of Wiccans was taken into consideration when making decisions on whether to approve the Pentacle…
“It is rank hypocrisy for this administration to claim publicly that it cares about religious freedom and equality but then to quietly and deliberately discriminate against a minority faith like Wicca,” she said. “Until now, this administration’s view has been that Wiccans are good enough to fight for their country, but not good enough to be acknowledged with a proper headstone”…
AU noted that the VA’s list of 38 approved symbols for government gravestones, markers and plaques includes emblems for Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Hindus, Humanists and members of the Eckankar, Serbian Orthodox and United Moravian faiths.
A Wiccan group first petitioned the VA for approval of the pentacle years ago. Officials at the agency dragged their feet on the request but in the interim approved the symbols of six other religions and belief systems. Among them was a Sikh emblem, which the VA approved in just a few weeks.
For a person who has gotten very tired of hearing some people claim over and over that “clearly, the Founding Fathers intended this to be a Christian nation, and to believe otherwise is a naive misunderstanding of the historical context,” and on, and on, this news is a welcome breath of fresh air. The idea that our country was founded on a religious tolerance that was only meant to extend to persons of mainstream, preferably Christian, faith is just so antithetical to everything I ever learned about our country’s supposed founding ideology, in both school and at church, that I was beginning to wonder if the world around me had gone insane.
This kind of news gives me a tiny bit of renewed hope that maybe, just maybe, the ideals I was raised to believe in might still exist out there, and are being defended rigorously by people who care. I am not alone. We are not alone.