After giving their lives to protect their country, their country is finally giving something back.
The Department of Veterans Affairs finally added the Wiccan pentacle to the list of emblems that can be used on soldiers’ headstones. At least 11 families will have the pentacle added to their loved one’s headstone in the coming days. The Department of Veterans Affairs settled the lawsuit in the interest of the families involved, as well as to save taxpayers from paying further litigation. In the settlement, the V.A. also agreed to pay $225,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs.A faith group’s petition for approval of a religious emblem for headstones normally takes a few months to be approved by the V.A., but this one took 10 years and a lawsuit. According to the Associated Press, 38 symbols are already permitted to appear on headstones. Some are commonly recognized, like the symbols for Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam. Then there are symbols used for smaller religions like Sufism Reoriented, Eckiankar and the Japanese faith Seicho-No-Ie.
The problem, therefore, was not about Wicca being too small a religion to recognize, since according to a Pentagon survey cited in the lawsuit, there are 1,800 Wiccans in the armed forces. Instead, the problem was the V.A discriminating against Wiccans because some believe Wicca is not a real religion, but rather devil worship.
However, if the V.A. did any research in the past decade, it should know Wicca is a religion based on nature. The five-pointed star within a circle, or pentacle, is not a symbol of Satanism, even though inverted versions of the pentacle have been adopted by some religious Satanists, in much the same way as some adopt the inverted cross. The points actually represent earth, air, fire, water and spirit. How much of this information the V.A. uncovered is unknown, but the pentacles will be added just in time for Memorial Day.
I am glad Wiccan military families are able to finally have the same rights as any Christian, Muslim or Jewish family. Though this country was founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs, it is important to remember people of all religions live in the United States. If other religions can be recognized, Wicca deserves the same respect. The V.A.-affiliated families lost loved ones serving the United States, and I can imagine how heart-breaking it was for them when the government dragged its feet on an issue that should have been a no-brainer. While these families played tug-of-war with the V.A., six other emblems were approved. This shows that the V.A. had to have some reason to fight the Wiccan community for so long.
During the lawsuit, it was found that President Bush made negative comments about Wicca in 1999 when he was the governor of Texas. The comments were made during an interview about Wiccan soldiers being allowed to worship at Fort Hood. At the time, Bush said, “I don’t think witchcraft is a religion. I would hope the military officials would take a second look at the decision they made.” According to the Washington Post, lawyers familiar with the case suggested the V.A. might have had political motives for rejecting the pentacle. That’s not surprising, considering Bush has made it quite clear that he is a strong believer in Christianity.
Nevertheless, it does not matter what Bush or anyone in the V.A. department thinks about Wicca. Whether they think it is good, evil or not even a religion is irrelevant. The fact is that these soldiers were allowed to have their faith stated in official handbooks for military chaplains and engraved on their dog tags. In their death, it is only proper that the V.A. allow for these fallen soldiers’ graves to reflect a part of them that is important, whether they agree with it or not.
Shemir Wiles is a senior majoring in mass communications.