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Fallen Soldier Gets a Bronze Star but No Pagan Star

Department spokeswoman Josephine Schuda said VA turned down Wiccans in the past because religious groups used to be required to list a headquarters or central authority, which Wicca does not have. But that requirement was eliminated last year, she noted.

"I really have no idea why it has taken so long" for the Wiccan symbol to gain approval, Schuda said.

The department declined repeated requests from The Washington Post to speak to higher-ranking officials about the issue.

Retired Army Chaplain William Chrystal, a United Church of Christ minister who was chaplain of Stewart's National Guard unit, has strongly backed Roberta Stewart's request.

"It's such a clear First Amendment issue, I can't even conceive of why they are not granting it, except for political reasons," he said. "I think the powers that be are afraid they'll alienate conservative Christians if they approve a symbol that connotes witches and warlocks casting spells and brewing potions."

Nevada's congressional delegation, including Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D), also has supported Roberta Stewart.

But letters printed by Nevada newspapers indicate how much hostility Wiccans face. "I don't see how anything that supports witchcraft and satanism can legitimately be called a religion," one reader wrote to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Stewart said that she is trying to educate people about Wicca, as well as to fulfill her husband's wishes. "Until he is laid to rest," she said, "I cannot rest."

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