Slain Nevada Soldier at Last Gets Wiccan Plaque
Monday, December 4, 2006
RENO, Nev. -- The widow of a soldier killed in Afghanistan saw a Wiccan symbol placed on a memorial plaque for her husband Saturday, after fighting the federal government for more than a year over the emblem.
Roberta Stewart, widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, and Wiccan leaders said it was the first government-issued memorial plaque with a Wiccan pentacle, a five-pointed star enclosed in a circle.
More than 50 friends and family dedicated the plaque at Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley, Nev., about 45 miles east of Reno.
They praised Gov. Kenny Guinn (R) for his role in getting the Nevada Office of Veterans Services to issue the plaque in September. The agency cited its jurisdiction over the state veterans' cemetery.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has approved the symbols of 38 other faiths for use in national veterans' cemeteries; about half are versions of the Christian cross.
The Jewish Star of David, the Muslim crescent, the Buddhist wheel, the Mormon angel, the nine-pointed star of Bahai and an atomic whirl for atheists are also permitted, but not the pentacle.
VA officials have said they are rewriting rules for approving emblems, but the process requires a public comment period.
About 1,800 active-duty service members identify themselves as Wiccans, according to 2005 Defense Department statistics, and Wicca is one of the fastest-growing faiths in the country. Its adherents worship the Earth and believe they must give to the community. Some consider themselves "white" or good witches, pagans or neo-pagans.
Patrick Stewart and four other soldiers died Sept. 25, 2005, when their Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. He was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.