May 27, 2006

Gold Star Widow Seeks Pentacle

Sgt. Patrick Stewart served his country twice; once in Desert Storm with the regular Army and again in Afghanistan with the National Guard. He did not return from Afghanistan. Last September he died there when his helicopter was shot down. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart; symbols of his service and sacrifice. But it is the symbol of his religion that has become a complicated issue. Stewart was a Wiccan and his wife has been fighting a protracted battle to memorialize him with a pentacle.

Over the years, families have used religious symbols such as the Jewish Star of David, the Christian cross and the Islamic crescent and star to honor their loved ones on headstones and markers.

For Sgt. Patrick Stewart's family, the symbol of choice was also from his religion: the Wiccan pentacle.

But of all the symbols and faiths recognized by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Wicca and its emblem – a circle around a five-pointed star – are not among them.

There are hopeful signs from the VA.

The state's top veterans official, Tim Tetz, said he was “diligently pursuing” the matter with Gov. Kenny Guinn, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev.

“Sergeant Stewart and his family deserve recognition for their contributions to our country,” said Tetz, executive director of the Nevada Office of Veterans Services.

“It's unfortunate the process is taking so long, but I am certain Sgt. Patrick will ultimately receive his marker with the Wiccan symbol,” he said Thursday.

However, Stewart's family is not the first to pursue equal consideration for Wiccans who have served their country with discouraging results.

The Rev. Selena Fox, senior minister of the Wiccan Circle Sanctuary in Barneveld, Wis., is among those who have been pushing the federal government to adopt the emblem.

Fox said Veterans Affairs has been considering such requests for nearly nine years with no decision.

“While this stonewalling continues, families of soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice are still waiting for equal rights,” Fox said.

Only time will tell.

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