Sunday, July 30, 2006

Government: Some Religions Are Still More Equal Than Others

pentacleFallen Wiccan soldier is denied an honor | This has been going on a very long time. It is disgrace to a country that believes in freedom and is founded on the idea of freedom of religion.
WASHINGTON -- At the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in the small town of Fernley, Nev., there is a wall of brass plaques for local heroes. But one space is blank. There is no memorial for Sgt. Patrick Stewart.

That's because Stewart was a Wiccan, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has refused to allow a symbol of the Wicca religion -- a five-pointed star within a circle, called a pentacle -- to be inscribed on U.S. military memorials or grave markers.

The department has approved the symbols of 38 other faiths; about half of are versions of the Christian cross. It also allows the Jewish Star of David, the Muslim crescent, the Buddhist wheel, the Mormon angel, the nine-pointed star of Bahai and something that looks like an atomic symbol for atheists.
But Wiccans are still 2nd-class-citizens as far as the Pentagon is concerned.

This issue has been around for 9 years. The Pentagon - or the VA anyway - doesn't want to recognize Wiccans. They do allow it to be entered in service records and it was recorded on Sgt. Stewart's dog-tags. The Pentagon - as the result of a court order, not out the kindness of their hearts - allows Wiccan ceremonies on military bases in the same manner that other religions are allowed to hold ceremonies on base.

Some statistics:
  • Wicca has increased 17 times from about 9000 adherents in 1990, to 134,000 adherents in 2001
  • 1800 Wiccans are on active duty with the armed forces
It comes down to prejudice in the end.
Wiccans still suffer, however, from the misconception that they are devil worshippers. Some Wiccans call themselves witches, pagans or neopagans. Most of their rituals revolve around the cycles of nature, such as equinoxes and phases of the moon.
Wicca had been excluded because the VA required groups wanting recognition to provide a headquarter address, or central authority. Wicca lacks either of these. But that requirement was dropped last year, and still Wicca is excluded.

Some religions are respected. Some are not. The First Amendment says that no religion shall be respected above any other. I guess the VA didn't read that far. Now if I was cynical, I might agree with Retired Army Chaplain William Chrystal; he says it is all about conservative politics.
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.
It basically comes down to a simple question. Do you believe in freedom of religion? Or do you believe that only you have the right to determine what is and isn't a religion? Plenty of people fall into the 2nd category, which basically says, "I believe in religious freedom for people who believe the way I do."
"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.

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