Navy vet Scott Stearns at Tahoma National Cemetery in Covington, Wash (courtesy: Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Aided by the American Civil Liberties Union, a Navy veteran who identifies himself as Wiccan is pressing the federal government to allow pentacles, the symbol of his faith, to be engraved free on military headstones.
Scott Stearns, of Kent, Wash., argues Hindus, Sufis and Buddhists, along with people of other faiths have the privilege, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported.
“I would hope when I pass away that both my status as a vet and my religious belief would be on my marker,” said Stearns, who works at the Seattle office of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The VA has been paying for the headstone inscriptions since 1997.
Wicca, a pagan form of worship that celebrates nature and the elements, was recognized officially by the Defense Department as a religion in 1996.
As WorldNetDaily reported, members of the U.S. Air Force stationed at a Texas base attend weekly meetings for Wiccans at a base facility, drawing between 25 and 50 people.
The National Cemetery Administration of the Veterans Affairs Department, however, has not approved Wicca’s star-and-circle pentacle.
Wiccan veterans who have made the request complain they have been stonewalled.
“It seems like there’s a bias,” said Stearns. “‘Discrimination’ might be too strong a word, but it definitely seems like there might be a bias.”
Doug Honig, an ACLU spokesman, said the organization will help Stearns, arguing his case is an issue of religious freedom.
“The government over the years has accepted many small religious groups that are not considered mainstream,” Honig said. “We haven’t heard any reason why the Wiccans shouldn’t be allowed to have their emblems on their headstones, too.”
Stearns suspects the government doesn’t like the symbol, which is tattooed on his arm, because Hollywood wrongly associates it with demonic cults and rituals.
Anissa Alford, director of communications for the VA’s National Cemetery Administration, told the Seattle paper inscriptions with the word Wiccan or pentacle are allowed on headstones, but the symbol has not been approved.
Since April, Stearns says, he has sent multiple letters to his representatives in Washington, D.C., and gathered dozens of signatures. He also has obtained, through a freedom-of-information request, cemetery administration documents indicating other Wiccans have been making the same request, without success, since 1996.
Alford said no emblems are being approved at the moment because new guidelines are being prepared, requiring proof of a viable organization.
“We’re not going to willy-nilly approve emblems until there is a need,” she said.
Wiccans, she explained, have engaged only in a scattered writing campaign and “never sent in an application from the head of the organization speaking for the Wiccans.”
Stearns argued, however, Wiccans have no official head of the organization.
“I want to know who the ‘head’ of the atheists is? Or even who is the head of the Hebrew faith or the head of Christian faith? How about the head of the Muslim faith?” he asked.
Stearns said if he doesn’t get a satisfactory answer, he will take legal action.
As WorldNetDaily reported, a Wiccan sued a small South Carolina town because prayers at council meetings were offered in the name of Jesus. As a result, an appeals court barred prayers at all council meetings, and the Supreme Court decided not to take the case this year, effectively upholding the decision.
Officials in Chesterfield County, Virginia, discriminated against Cyndi Simpson, a Wiccan, when they barred her from being on a list of clergy who can open the board of supervisors meetings with prayer, said U.S. District Court Judge Dennis W. Dohnal.
The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU of Virginia and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.