A ghost in Wiccans’ graves?

pentacleFollowing on the tails of last week’s post on pagans was this news story involving the widows of two U.S. combat veterans suing the federal government for refusing to let them place Wiccan symbols on their husbands’ headstones. As a side note, if you’re interested in more information on pagans, peruse the comments on that post. We received a surprising number of responses with links and info on the wide variety of pagan beliefs in the world these days.

But back to the news story, which was brought to our attention earlier this week by “friend of the blog” Dawn Eden of the New York Daily News. As best I can tell, the AP’s Matt Apuzzo is the only one to cover this story that, as Eden said, “has a religion ghost a mile wide.” Here’s the latest from the AP:

The Star of David is OK, as are more than a dozen variations of the Christian cross. Even the atomic whirl used by atheists gets the thumbs-up from the federal government.

But a Wiccan symbol representing earth, air, fire, water and spirit isn’t recognized by the federal government for veterans’ grave markers.

A federal lawsuit filed Monday accuses the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs of violating the constitutional rights of Wiccans because the government does not allow its symbol on headstones in national cemeteries.

“I honestly think there must be some people who don’t want to acknowledge that the Wiccan religion should be entitled to the same rights as other religions,” said Selena Fox, who is senior minister of the Wiccan Circle Sanctuary in Barneveld, Wisconsin.

The problem with the article, as Eden noted, is that there is no mention of the possibility that widows and other family members of GIs might find a pentagram offensive. Another reader, David Perry, noted that GIs fight to defend freedom, including their own religious freedom, and therefore the government owes it to them to respect that religious freedom.

Is this a perspective that ought to be addressed in the news story? Are there families of soldiers out there who would find it offensive to see a pentagram on the tombstone next to the that of their beloved one?

One problem is that Veterans Affairs has not given a reason for refusing to include the pentagram. But if the offensiveness of the pentagram to Christians was stated as a reason, then it would no longer be a religion ghost. It would be part of the story.

There is something unique in that the pentagram is considered a satanic symbol, by some, or in the words of Eden, “a symbol of hell amidst men whose families would wish them in heaven.” In other words, to some Christians, this symbol is offensive. The article gives no voice to anyone with that perspective. Should it? Discuss.

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  • Michael

    Does it matter if people are offended? It’s not pornography, but a relgious symbol. Should Islamic symbols be eliminated to soothe the easily offended? How about Christian symbols, which are surely offensive to some people out there.

    This is a classic “minority religion” story that raises the question of how much control does the dominant religion and its culture have over decisionmaking. If the First Amendment means anything, it means that minority relgions must viewed on a similar footing as the dominant relgion.

    I think that’s the essence that’s missing from these Pagan stories. The most important First Amendment battles have been waged by minority religions that are out of the mainstream. What happens when “unhappiness” results in Christians dictating the gravestone marketplace, especially in military circles. THAT’s the giant story.

  • Dennis Colby

    A swastika? Come on. Last time I checked, Wiccans didn’t have anything to do with the Holocaust. And as much as some Christians detest Wiccans, I can’t think of any that would seriously compare them to Nazis.

    I mean, the story is about how the widows of two soldiers would like the grave markers of their husbands to reflect the men’s religious beliefs. And the government, for whatever reason, is denying that simple request. Personally, the only “ghost” I see here is the lack of support for this reasonable request from the sorts of groups who are first in line to decry some moron high school banning use of the word “Christmas.” If this isn’t a case of the government denying a basic religious right, I don’t know what is.

    So against the First Amendment, Eden is proposing what – the fact that some people might be offended? Have we become that easily susceptible to the victim mindset that we feel we need to be protected against others’ religious expressions of grief? And it would be wrongheaded offense, to boot – the pentagram isn’t a Satanic symbol; the inverted pentagram is.

    I ask you to propose how Matt Apuzzo should have “given voice” to anyone who thinks the pentagram is a Satanic swastika. The government isn’t explaining its rationale, so what’s he supposed to do? Start cold-calling the easily offended?

  • http://www.findlayanglican.org Dan Berger

    The swastika (with the arms pointing the other direction from Hitler’s version) is a sacred symbol in some versions of soutwestern-North-American Native American traditional religion.

    Suppose that deceased veterans of that sort of religious background are granted a proper swastika emblem for their gravestones.

    The same arguments given above apply: this swastika isn’t a Nazi symbol, the inverted swastika is. So Jews should just “get over it.” Right? Of course right.

  • Michael

    The ironic twist to the “I’m offended” scenario is that Christian legal groups dismiss thie arument all the time in litigation when people suggest religious symbols shouldn’t be in publicly-funded spaces. When Jews or Muslims or Athiests say “I’m offended” that tax dollars are being spent to display the Ten Commandments, Christian legal groups say “too bad” and wave the First Amendment.

    Now, when people are pressing the government to allow in MORE religion, these same folks are saying “I’m offended” and could try to block religious symbols. THAT’s irony.

  • Michael

    The ironic twist to the “I’m offended” scenario is that Christian legal groups dismiss this argument all the time in litigation when people suggest religious symbols shouldn’t be in publicly-funded spaces. When Jews or Muslims or Athiests say “I’m offended” that tax dollars are being spent to display the Ten Commandments, Christian legal groups say “too bad” and wave the First Amendment.

    Now, when people are pressing the government to allow in MORE religion, these same folks are saying “I’m offended” and could try to block religious symbols. THAT’s irony.

  • Dennis Colby


    The question is whether one party’s offense at someone else’s religion trumps the second party’s right to practice their religion. What if atheists are offended by crosses, crescents, and stars of David? I guess they should all go. But wait – what if Christians, Muslims, and Jews are offended by the atheists’ gravestones?

    Hey, I know – no graves for anyone!

  • Dennis Colby

    Michael wrote:

    “Now, when people are pressing the government to allow in MORE religion, these same folks are saying ‘I’m offended’ and could try to block religious symbols. THAT’s irony.”

    That would be irony, but it’s not clear to me that this is happening at all, outside of Dawn Eden’s conjecture. The Pentagon still hasn’t made public its reasons for denying the pentagram. Knowing the federal government, the reason could be that someone didn’t fill out the proper paperwork, or that some appropriation wasn’t properly distributed, etc.

    I’m still waiting to see whether anyone could actually be offended by something so benign as another person’s grief. But I definitely think the Christian legal groups who doggedly oppose efforts to remove Christianity from the public sphere should be filing friend of the court briefs on behalf of the Wiccans.

  • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog.html Jason Pitzl-Waters

    I’m responding to this at length on my own blog, but in short I think its time Mr. Pulliam came clean about his personal bias concerning modern Paganism. This wasn’t a post looking to spark an open and honest debate, or to give light to an unheard religious voice. This was a post to stir the pot and create controversy. A swastika? Are you serious? You do a disservice to this blog by this post.

    Until Dan Pulliam proves he has read about the history of this struggle from the Pagan perspective (which can be found, in part, here) he has little right to talk of what some undefined number of conservative Christian families feel about the Wiccan symbol on military markers. Unless that is, you are going to advocate for the interview of some outraged Pagans the next time a Christian rights story pops up. Somehow I don’t think it will happen.

  • Jeff

    Mr. Pulliam was pointing out that, for this story to be properly balanced, other perspectives should be sought out. If one wanted to do a proper job, then the reporter could interrogate that perspective as noted in some of the comments. However, the reporter declines to pursue the story to a reasonable depth.

    While the Swastika (the Nazi one) is likely much more offensive to Jews than the Pentagram is to Christians, his point is still valid if a bit overstated.

  • http://dpulliam.com dpulliam

    Thank you Jeff. You said it better than I could have said it myself. And you are right. Saying that the Pentagram is comparable to a Swastika is overstating things in my attempt to make a point.

    While I try not to inject my personal views on this blog that often, it seems that Jason Pitzl-Waters has taken the liberty to inject what he thinks I believe, so I will do my best to clarify.

    I do not have a bias against modern Paganism. I do not think the Pentagram is comparable to the swastika. I was merely suggesting that some might. It was a poor comparison. Personally I feel that if there are any people out there that would be offended by the Pentagram being a grave stone of a U.S. vet at the request of his family … they should probably find another country. I also personally doubt this it the reason the VA hasn’t given them permission to do so.

    I do not think that this is a case of Pagans vs. Christians. Rather, I think it would be helpful for journalists to do a more thorough job covering the controversy and try to find out the reasons that Pentagrams are not currently allowed on grave stones. I think the answer could be enlightening.

  • http://dpulliam.com dpulliam

    After some consideration, I removed the offensive word from this post. I regret violating my own personal rule against comparing anything to the Holocaust not only because it engages in a significant amount of exaggeration, but because overuse lowers the offensiveness of that historic crime.

  • MattK

    Yeah, the story should try harder to explain why the pentegram is being resisted by the DVA. And it should explain why, if some people are offended, why they are offended by a Pentegram. Personally, I doubt that it is because of sensitivity to Christians that the DVA doesn’t allow pentegrams on tombstones. I think it has more to do with the nature of a bureaucracy – presevre the status quo at all costs.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Should crosses be excluded because they might “offend” Jewish families? Cf. the uproar over Catholic prayers at Auschwitz.

    I also, in the light of my own experience, distrust bureaucratic assumptions about who will or will not be “offended” by symbols.

  • R. rattus

    Seriously, comparing a pentagram/pentacle to a Nazi swastika is just plain inflammatory. I mean, some people might, merely for the sake of argument, come up with something equally ignorant and hurtful about Islam. I can’t imagine the results would be pretty or necessarily logical. I suppose it’s all in how you present it. Let me try to be one of those people who try to reply calmly just the same.

    In a cemetery, military grave markers indicate individuals who have served the USA in a common way — military service. Beyond the name and dates, the only thing that lends more depth to a person’s memorial is the little mark of faith. It’s not only present to suggest the deceased’s daily habits and values, but to show where they think they are headed in death. It’s our opportunity to recognize that and wave bon voyage with hope and reflection.

    If a particular Christian sees a pentagram and says to herself sadly that the dead service member is going to hell, so be it. If a particular Pagan sees a cross and says to herself that the dead service member will eventually figure out that the Summerland and reincarnation are still options in death, so be it. I know when I look at the crosses on the graves of my relatives, I kindly think the latter. (Alarmed? Don’t worry — I don’t “blaspheme” their lives or their sacrifices. I pray that their god/higher power takes care of them now that they’re not with me anymore. It’s the same prayer I give everyone. Works for Atheists, too, if you consider physics and mathematics to be higher powers.)

    If I have a pentacle on my grave, and if a cemetery neighbor’s relatives are too disturbed by it to visit their loved one anymore, I think that says disquietingly more about how they seemingly value their insecurities over their love for their beloved dead. Values out of whack.

    One “just imagine” that I’d like to toss in: Do pacifists feel squeamish around military headstones?

  • Stephen A.

    I actually think the “bureaucracy” excuse may indeed be a cover for something more, and should be covered more closely.

    There are many, many religions represented already on stones that they’ve approved for use in military cemeteries. It seems ludicrous to single this one out or drag their feet over it.

    I’m certain some people are offended by some symbol of another’s religion. So? Not a sufficient reason. And as the Wiccans are at great pains to explain, it’s not a Satanic symbol anyway.

  • Aelred

    This post used the word “Pentagram” so many times and was related to military issues that I started reading the word as PentaGON.

    Perhaps the Wiccans could receive permission to have a Pentagon on their headstones and then draw the lines in themselves.

    That a military complex in a five-pointed building would prohibit a five-pointed star is ironic as it gets.

  • http://lilairen.livejournal.com Kiya

    The thing I (pagan, but not Wiccan and not gonsidering the pentacle a symbol appropriate to my faith) find particularly funny about the whole “This could offend Christians!” thing is that the thing is also a Christian symbol — of the Five Wounds of Christ.

  • http://www.myspace.com/black_knight_of_avalon Black Knight

    And no one ever thought that the Christian cross (a sword with the blade pointing down) and the Christian crucifix (a half-naked/injured eunuch hanging from the afforementioned sword) could be offensive?

    People get offended by things. Grow up. VA, put that f**king pentacle on the guys’ headstones.

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Funny thing about the swastika and grave markers.
    Here’s a note that Hindu Press International sent out with its daily e-newsletter:
    KOLHORN, THE NETHERLANDS, November 14, 2006: (HPI note: The following editorial comment is by Clive Roberts of Holland.) The European Parliament is engaged in discussions to ban the Swastika. Their awareness of its symbolism is obviously limited to Europe post 1930! May I offer some information?

    If you drive to Scotland, and visit the Queen’s Scottish residence at Balmoral, then as you leave the car park and cross the bridge over the River Dee, you will see a monument to the fallen dead in (I believe) the First World War. Possibly the Boer War, I forget, as I now live in Holland. The granite around the inscriptions is bordered by hundreds of small Swastikas! This to me is evidence of the positive elements of the relationship which used to exist between Britain and the (at that time) Colonies in the East.

    To read the rest of the item — it goes on for a while and I don’t want to clog this list — it’s on the Dallasnews Religion blog.

  • http://www.deborahlipp.com/wordpress Deborah

    The Pentagon still hasn’t made public its reasons for denying the pentagram. Knowing the federal government, the reason could be that someone didn’t fill out the proper paperwork, or that some appropriation wasn’t properly distributed, etc.

    It seems extremely unlikely that, after nine years of attempts to get the pentacle admitted to the allowed symbols list, during which years two other symbols were admitted, that this is merely beaurocracy. It’s certainly not preserving the status quo, since other symbols were admitted.

    Nine years, many attempts, many phone calls to government nabobs, much publicity, petitions, and threatened lawsuits, and now it’s time to finally file suit. The government isn’t explaining itself, but it defies all credulity to suggest this is still just innocent red tape.

    And as far as people being offended by pentacles; if they are, then they shouldn’t have them on their own gravestones. As a Jew (and a Pagan) I am okay with Hindus choosing a swastika, as it has been a sacred symbol for them for thousands of years (of course, they chose the Sanskrit om instead, probably for just that reason). I don’t want a swastika on my grave but I don’t go visiting other people’s graves to see if I can get myself good and offended. I don’t see why it’s anyone else’s business what I have on my grave and therefore I don’t believe the story needs pseudo-balance from bigots.

  • Name redacted

    So anything another finds “offensive” can be outlawed? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

    I am PROFOUNDLY offended by the christian cross, myself. To me it’s a symbol of hate, intolerance, and mass murder (think: Inquisition, ‘witch’ burnings, etc). Therefore, since I’m offended by it, I have the right to give that as a reason for removing it from my sight.

    RIDICULOUS??? YES. I am Wiccan and I demand the right to display my religious symbol. Anyone who’s taken two seconds to learn about Wicca knows darn well that there’s nothing “satanic” about it. I would never, ever demand that Christians not be entitled to their crosses and crucifixes; why on earth can they not show me the same respect? And you wonder why people despise Christians so much!

  • Robin Dukes

    So.. We are fighting for freedom.huh..
    But.. we can’t have a symbol of our faith on a headstone?..Hm.

    Well so much for freedom! It is dead and buried..
    heaven forbid..if it has a symbol that the VA does not like..Sheesh!

  • Michael

    The interesting “ghost” in this news story is whether the large number of Evangelicals and religious conservatives in the military bureaucracy is what has led to this policy.

  • http://godsrbored.blogspot.com anne johnson

    I think the reason we’ve seen no Christian commentary on the pagan symbol is that a vast, vast majority of Christians would have no objection whatsoever to the pentagram on a military memorial. The minute number of Christians who would object probably don’t care much for the atheist symbol either.

    None of this matters, because our Constitution has an Establishment Clause. The federal government cannot discriminate against one religious group unless it is prepared to remove all religious iconography from every single military headstone.

    A hypothetical: Suppose Scientology had its own symbol? Could that be placed on a military marker? (Maybe it does and is, I don’t know.)

  • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog.html Jason Pitzl-Waters

    “While I try not to inject my personal views on this blog that often, it seems that Jason Pitzl-Waters has taken the liberty to inject what he thinks I believe, so I will do my best to clarify.”

    Dan, I have to work with what you give me. You had one post where you question if Wicca can even be called a religion, then you invoke a Nazi symbol in a second? Excuse me if that give the impression you aren’t favorably inclined towards modern Paganism.

    “I do not think that this is a case of Pagans vs. Christians. Rather, I think it would be helpful for journalists to do a more thorough job covering the controversy and try to find out the reasons that Pentagrams are not currently allowed on grave stones. I think the answer could be enlightening.”

    The funny thing is that this blog often critisizes the need for false “balance” in articles talking about conservative/orthodox Christian movements. But here we need to know what Christians who would equate us with evil think?

    There most likely is a deeper reason for why the VA has been stonewalling for so long. But until we get some actual testimony its all guess-work. Is it a political reason? Religious? Some other reason? Who knows. But interviewing conservative Christians to “balance” our cause is irresponsible at this point, and does nothing to shed light on why the Pentacle has been held up.

  • http://dpulliam.com dpulliam

    Jason, I think we’re both on the same side here. We both want reporters to light shed on why the Pentacle has not been approved by the VA. I was just trying to present a view that could, or could not, be the reason.

    And as Michael said above, if it is indeed religious conservatives holding up the approval of the Pentagram, then we have a major news story on our hands. I do not think my analysis of this issue would be complete if I did not include what I thought could be a likely cause of the hold-up.

    Do I think it is a legit reason? Well, personally, I think if that is the reason, some people need to find themselves a country with a different Constitution.

  • http://dpulliam.com dpulliam

    Oh and one more thing, this blog is not about my personal opinions on issues. It’s my opinion on how the news was covered. That’s all.

  • Rev. Amy Blackthorn

    It doesn’t matter. No where in the Bill of Rights, does it say that people have the right to NEVER be offended.

    Athiests can be offended by Crosses, Muslims by Star’s of David.

    If it offends them, then maybe they need to educate themselves on it’s meaning.

  • Rev. Amy Blackthorn

    Besides. Pentagrams and Pentacles are not Evil.

    Satanists may use an Inverted Pentacle, but so do Second degree Wiccans.

    Does that mean Crosses are evil, because Satanists use Inverted crosses? I think not.

  • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog.html Jason Pitzl-Waters

    Your right Dan, we do agree. Religious attitudes towards Pagans within the VA could be holding things up. But considering how hard it has been to get quotes from within the VA on attitudes towards the Pentacle, I don’t want to see reporters pulling aside their local anti-Pagan crusader to give a “voice” to the stonewalling of the Pentacle. Until we know more. As you know, nuanced reporting on religion is often hard for the press.

  • Journey

    As a Wiccan I find it offensive that 38 symbols are recognised, yet when I go to visit the grave of a fallen member of my faith, it is blank, as if they were not religious. As if they were not a priest or priestess.

    If the government is going to discrimate to protect the feelings of some, then they should remove all religious markers.

  • Varenius

    What’s odd, though, is that if this is the result of Christian bias and/or oversensitivity, how did an atheist symbol ever get approved?

  • Arondelle

    The one thing no one has mentioned so far, is that one of the requirements for the VA (not the Pentagon, BTW) to authorize the use of a particular religious symbol on a headstone is that it be verified by a member of the central authority/hierarchy of that religion.

    Wicca has no central authority to speak for all Wiccans. If Wiccans were to nominate a Grand High Priestess to be their authority, the greatest stated roadblock would be eliminated.

    (Pagans of all sorts are notorious for their rejection of a central hierarchy which hands down all the rules for them. Ask 5 Pagans for the definition of Paganism and you’ll get 9 different answers. This is one reason why there is a question as to whether or not Wicca and Paganism are “real” religions.)

    So, the Veterans’ Administration, the anal-retentive bureaucrats that they are, has no one to go to to verify that the Pentacle is, in fact, an official symbol of Wicca or Paganism. This strikes me as odd since, last I heard, there is neither a Pope of Atheism nor a Secular Humanist Convention….

    I’m a Pagan, and I’m occasionally put off by things that are slathered all over with Christian symbolism, but this never applies to headstones in cemeteries or other memorials. (Personally, I’ve left instructions to be cremated; a memorial is optional, but by that time I think I would care less.)

    I believe that it all comes down to whether or not the VA is willing to change its rules — or if there is some reason why they are not being allowed to change their rules. Determine why the rules can’t be changed, and we will discover who is responsible.

  • Dominic Glisinski

    It’s intriguing to observe the reaction from the non-christian sector on here…

  • Larry Rasczak

    As, perhaps, the only person here who actually has earned the right to a government supplied headstone and 40 square feet of a Veteran’s Cemetary I would like to say that I don’t want a pentagram there.

    I’m sure that (at least most, and at least publicly) the Wiccan’s don’t believe that the Pentagram is a Satanic symbol.

    That’s fine, but if I believed everything the Wiccan’s said I would BE a Wiccan and I’m not.

    More importantly the Government is NOT violating anyone’s Constitutional rights here.

    The Government is offering a free benefit, (headstone and grave). There are several conditions attached to this benefit. This is perfectly legal.

    One of the restrictions is that you have to be a veteran, or in some cases the spouce/ child of one. (Does this restrict the Constitutional rights of Quakers, Pacificts, and Draft Dodgers?).

    There was recently some discussion about if there should be a condition attached about being a fellon. A particularly noxious murderer wound up getting the death penatly, and then the press found out he was to be burred in the Veteran’s Cemetary after the execution. There was some stink about that.

    Another condition is that the free headstones have to be white. They are also subject to size limits. (If I want the V.A. / Army to pay for my funeral I can’t have a giant angel statue like the one on the poster for “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” on my grave).

    Also there are limits on what you can have engraved on the headstone. Normally it is just Name, Conflict Served in, Rank, and dates. No “Beloved Husband and Father” or “Husband of Mary, Father of Ben, Terry, and Sam”. No photos in the stones. Even the graves of the astronauts don’t always have the fact they were astronauts on them.

    Lastly there is the fact that you are restricted to getting a free plot in the veteran’s cemetary where they put you. Not everybody gets Arlington, not every town has a veteran’s cemetary. (Though I’m honestly not sure what they do if you live in the middle of nowhere and are 300 miles from the nearest vet cemetary. Maybe they buy you a plot up to a fixed cost limit, but I don’t know.)

    So “no pentagrams” is just another restriction by the government. If you want the free funeral you play by their rules. If you don’t want to play by their rules they don’t have to pay for your funeral.

    This “we don’t have to pay, you don’t have to take” rule is used by the government all the time. It says you can’t get govt. student loans if you don’t register for the draft. It says that if you want Federal Financial Aid at your school you have to let military recruiters on campus, and track the race and gender of your students. It says that if your State wants Federal Highway funds then you have to have a certian speed limit and a certian drinking age.

    I find it funny that the people who normally support intrusive governement actions under this scheme (liberals) are now objecting strongly to it being used in this case.

  • kerner

    Yeah, who knew the pagans were reading this.

    Well, for what it’s worth, I’m a Christian and I see no reason why anyone’s grave ought not bear the symbol of the religion (s)he professed in life. It was the individual soldier’s religion, and (s)he will take it to eternity, wherever (s)he spends it. As for reminding us of Hell, it won’t hurt us to be reminded that there is one.

  • kerner

    Again, for what it’s worth, I have no right to be buried in a veterans cemetary, but if I want to visit the graves of my father or my brother, I’ll have to do it in a veteran’s cemetary, because that’s where they are.

  • revhandrews

    The First Amendment grants us freedom OF Religion…

    …not freedom FROM Religion.

    Just because one doesn’t practice a particular religion and doesn’t believe in it and may even be offended by it, that doesn’t give one the right to deny another person those liberties.

  • Jeff H.

    Larry Rasczak said: “As, perhaps, the only person here who actually has earned the right to a government supplied headstone and 40 square feet of a Veteran’s Cemetary I would like to say that I don’t want a pentagram there.”

    Well larry I am a Wiccan and Gasp A Proud Veteran of the U.S. Army and as another person as you so aptly put it has earned the right for a headstone I WANT my religion to be on mine.

    Larry you go on to correctly point out that some rules and restrictions that are required that mostly make sense. The lawsuit was required for the one that doesn’t namely the VA deciding what is a religion and what is not. Maybe to you Larry freedom of religion means the choice to choose what form of christian you are that the government would approve of but to me it means I get to choose not a VA bureaucrat. Tell you what here are the approved symbols so you and others like you can find the ones you are offended by and write the VA and ask them to revoke them.

    02 BUDDHIST (Wheel of Righteousness)
    03 HEBREW (Star of David)
    08 UNITARIAN CHURCH (Flaming Chalice)
    11 MORMON (Angel Moroni)
    15 BAHAI (9 Pointed Star)
    16 ATHEIST
    17 MUSLIM (Crescent and Star)
    18 HINDU
    97 CHRISTIAN SCIENTIST (Cross & Crown)
    98 MUSLIM (Islamic 5 Pointed Star)

    See them at http://www.cem.va.gov/cem/hm/hmemb.asp

  • Sinjun

    That is not really a logical suggestion, because even that is discrimatory. What if i happen to find a Cross offensive? and I happen to think the Cross is a very offensive symbol. It’s nothing more than an instrument of tourture and death to me. Does that mean that the Cross should therefore not be allowed? At which point every single symbol in existance is likely offensive to at least one person… does that mean that absolutely no symbols can be used on any tombstone whatsoever?

    or is this an instance of only christian feelings matter and you are suggesting that since we aren’t christian the fact that we might be insulted by something therefore doesn’t register to you? Since i noticed your entire argument completely ignores that little bit of information…

  • Dustin Ambler

    In response to Larry Rasczak

    I have earned the right to be buried in a veterans cemetary, and I do believe that the wiccan symbol of faith should be allowed, it is no different than a cross. Also, I do not believe that schools should be forced to allow military recruiters to be able to recruit on their campuses or forfiet their federal funds. Being buried in a veterans cemetary is a symbol of the veterans patriotism and pride of serving and is not about getting a free funeral and you should be ashamed of yourself for suggesting that. Lastly, no one is asking you to believe in the wiccan religion, but to suggest that they are not to be trusted based on that religion is irresponsible and petty.

  • harmonyfb

    I note that you don’t bring up how offensive a Wiccan family (or an atheist or Muslim family) might find it to see a cross on the tombstone next to their family member. Your statement only serves to underscore the mistaken belief of some Christians that they are special, and their feelings on any matter should take precedence over anything else.

    Christians shouldn’t get special privileges that abridge the rights of others, period.

  • Brian J. Ashley

    I find crosses on graves offensive. Should they rip them out from all veterans cemetaries? I am a veterans and my late father was too. So if I am offended by someone else’s religious symbol, should those symbols be removed from the area near my father’s grave?

    This is a completly moronic blog. I cannot believe that I wasted my time reading and responding.

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  • http://altreligion.about.com Jennifer

    “there is no mention of the possibility that widows and other family members of GIs might find a pentagram offensive. ”

    That’s because it’s irrelevant whther they do or not. Some find the atheist symbol offensive, muslims sym,bols, and vice versa- “one true religion” folks will always find something offensive about the symbols of other faiths.

    However, it’s neither here nor there if anyone is offended by the symbol of another faith. It just does not enter into consideration.

  • Jennifer Emick

    “the Pentagram is considered a satanic symbol”

    It’s not. Some may ‘consider it so,’ but their ignorance is their own problem. I’ve seen everything from the crucifix to the OES star bandied about as “satanic.”

    (Of course it should not go without note that Satanists are also just as entitled to their own faith symbols…)

  • Caryn O’Brien

    If these soldiers can fight and die for this country, or are willing to fight and die for this country, they should be allowed to have what ever symbol they want on their Markers.

    The people who claim this symbol is satanic do not know anything about this faith, they are told by someone who knows nothing of this faith, who was told by someone who knows nothing of this faith….know what I’m getting at here? I hope so.

    No person has a right to pass judgement on another person or faith….”Judge Not lest ye be Judged” does this sound familiar!

  • http://altreligion.about.com Jennifer Emick

    “Wicca has no central authority to speak for all Wiccans”

    Neither does Islam,* yet they seem to have managed, symbol-wise.

    *or for that matter, Protestant Christianity…

  • Jennifer Emick
  • D W

    Hey Larry,

    Get your head out of your fourth point of contact!! (A$$ for civilians). You are NOT the only vet here. Plus, you DON’T speak for me. I WANT MY PENTACLE ON MY GRAVESTONE – and based on your attitude, I would find it offensive for you to be next to me.

    Did you happen to forget your oath when you enlisted? It states that you will support and defend the Constitution (not just the parts you like).

    You are dismissed!

  • Al Jones

    As an eight year Army veteran (Vietnam-19 months) I have my rights! Give me a Sacred Dollar Sign on my marker because I am a dedicated Capitalist.

  • http://holzman.livejournal.com Dan Holzman

    Given that no one seems to be disturbed that the cross is offensive to many, I don’t see why it should matter if anyone finds the Pentagram offensive.

    Given that no one seems to be disturbed that Satanists use an inverted cross as a symbol, I don’t see why it should matter if Satanists use an inverted pentagram — though I think the military is not going to get far if they try to use this as a basis for denying, say, Lt. Col. Michael Aquino a Satanic symbol on his grave when he dies. Freedom of religion includes Satanists, as courts have maintained before.

  • mjbubba

    It seems unfortunate (though certainly logical) that Wiccans use the pentagram and pentacle that are also used by occultists and Satanists. The confusion, however, should not prevent the VA from approving the use of the pentacle by anyone.
    Just an observation, but the Wiccan contributors here are displaying a high level of emotional content, which reveals the zeal of their convictions. Should they be referred to as “evangelical Wiccans”?

  • Jeff H.

    Mjbubba Said:” Just an observation, but the Wiccan contributors here are displaying a high level of emotional content, which reveals the zeal of their convictions. Should they be referred to as “evangelical Wiccans”?”

    As a Wiccan I would say no, unless you intend to be insulting. We do not proselytize to attempt to change people to our faith. We recognize that different faiths are appropriate to different people.

    We are not asking to change the rules of society to mach our faith view. We just want the same rights that most Americans have with out ever having to consider it. Seems like a small thing to ask in a nation that is founded on freedom especially freedom of religion

  • Christopher Blackwell

    As a Marine Vietnam Veteran and a Wiccan I both qualify for a grave in a veterans cemetery and I well better be allowed to have a pentacle on my on my headstone.

    Right now Wiccan vets can’t even have one put on at family expense. We have Wiccans buried at Arlington and one widow died while trying to get the VA to allow a pentacle on her World War II Vet Wiccan husbands grave, Her daughter is now taking on the fight. She is represented in the ACLU suit in the VA Appeals Court Case. Then there is the AU suit just launched after another whole year of requesting action from the VA.

    The 1800 Wiccans serving in the military is just the ones counted in the Air Force. The other services lump them in “Other” category. We have at least 4000 Military Wiccans serving. We are the third largest non Christian group serving, right between the Jews and the Muslims.

  • http://secrets.libsyn.com Aidan Odinson

    Once upon a time in the USA, some people were afraid that folks would take offense if their good, white, aglo-saxon protestant dear departeds were to rest in the same cemetery as African-Americans, Jews or Latinos. You don’t hear much about such objections anymore.

    If people are going to take offense to a Pentacle on a memorial marker, can I take offense to crosses? I am sure that there might be others who might take offense to the Muslim crescent, including folks who lost loved ones in 9/11. And what of Koreans and Chineese who might take offense at one of the “approved” symbols linked to a certain group associated with one form of Japanese Buddhism – and Japanese politics.

    I’ll accept an alternative symbol for my faith when all the crosses are removed and replaced with a symbol which does not offend me. In fact, I will offer such a symbol. I nominate the Easter Lily. No African-American has ever had to look at a burning Easter Lily on a hill. During the entire Inquisition, the Easter Lily was not held in front of a victim just before the fire was lit. So, let them replace all of their crosses with Easter Lilies!

    Of course, there is an aleternative. If they will accept our Pentacle, I’ll be happy to deal with their cross.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    “… is that it be verified by a member of the central authority/hierarchy of that religion.”

    Er, then who was the “central authority” consulted on behalf of atheists? For that matter, who are the “central authorities” for Judaism and Islam?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    I’ve watched this in silence, but I’d like to share my two cents.

    I don’t know, under church-state law, how you can deny the Wiccans their symbols in a public space.

    That said, I believe Daniel was right to say that the issue is controversial and that sources OPPOSING the Wiccans would need to be quoted with respect.

    Now EVERYBODY hit me!

  • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog.html Jason Pitzl-Waters


    “That said, I believe Daniel was right to say that the issue is controversial and that sources OPPOSING the Wiccans would need to be quoted with respect.”

    If only it were so easy. Like I said before, considering how tight-lipped VA officials have been, and considering that I haven’t seen any “leaked” insider info on their attitudes pulling aside a local anti-Pagan crusader for a pull-quote seems counter-productive to responsible reporting.

    I have yet to see any Christian group claiming influence on the VA in regards to this issue. So do reporters just pick their favorite conservative church official and interview them about how we meddle with demonic powers and are tools of Satan?

    Do we find opposition quotes just for the sake of finding opposition?

  • Arondelle

    Re: Muslims and Protestant Christians (and others) getting along fine without a Central Authority:

    That is certainly true, but these religions/denominations do have persons of authority who speak for them, or at least claim to speak for them.

    Imams and Mullahs are Islamic scholars who are entrusted to study the Quran and interpret it for their congregations; many have done so for a lifetime and are well-respected in their communities. While Muslims have no Vatican, or hierarchy, they certainly have no dearth of authoritative men to speak for them.

    As far as the Protestants go, “authoritative” spokesmen abound: Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham, Ted Haggard, James Kennedy, James Dobson, Fred Phelps, and so on, ad nauseum, to every rinky-dink pastor of some backwater home church.

    In fact, there are several Atheist organizations out there. Atheists, I should think, probably would not think that it’s a big deal to decide on a symbol to represent them, and I can imagine the average atheist saying “Yeah… Whatever…”

    Wiccans have no one of similar stature to speak for them, and furthermore, simply reject the idea of having anyone in authority. It’s in their theological DNA. I certainly hope that this episode will wake them up to the reality that they’re simple going to have to get organized and allow someone besides Lauri Cabot (the Official Witch of Salem (MA)) to speak up for them, or they’re going to get steamrolled by people who think like Mr. Rasczak.

    Re: “evangelical Wiccans”:

    Not evangelical Wiccans, perhaps, since their religion forbids proselytizing (as noted above), but certainly Fundamentalist Wiccans. I’ve run into a few of those, and they’re just as annoying as Fundamentalist Christians, perhaps more so.

    Dear gods, protect me from your followers.

  • Adam

    I am a Sgt. In the Military, I fight for the freedoms that Pagan’s are not being allowed by the V.A. I don’t care what your faith is, it should be respected. That’s what me and my men/women fight and sometimes die for. Give every one the same rights across the board. Stop the crap now because tomorrow it could be your freedoms taken away! Freedom is paid for in our blood and the blood of our Fathers and Mothers before us. Do not cheapen it by taking one groups freedoms away!

  • http://www.geocities.com/hohjohn John L. Hoh, Jr.

    I found this article interesting for this one fact. The story’s dateline reads “Madison, WI.” In Wisconsin a Wiccan priestess was installed as the chaplain at a state penitentiary. Irony, no?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    No, you find opposing quotes for the sake of journalism. The opposition is, well, the source of the opposition. And the church-state conflict is the story.

  • Serenity

    There ARE a couple of “leaders” for Wicca. First, we have Pete “Pathfinder” Davis of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, then there is Selena Fox of Covenent of the Goddess, and Don Lewis High-Correll of the Correllian Tradition of Wicca. All of these, plus locally acknowledged “leaders” are accepted as leaders of the Wiccan Religion. The three named have petitioned the VA for the Pentacle/Pentagram for over 10 years now. At one time, they were told that there was a change being made in the application, and that all applications were on hold until it was implemented. During this “change”, at least three (3) symbols were accepted. One was even rushed through, taking only 2 WEEKS to approve. (information acquired through FOIA)

    Yes, this is discrimination. Religious discrimination. All should be allowed their symbols of faith, or none should.

  • http://www.arcanology.com Al

    Leaving aside numbers of individuals as a whole, there are established Wiccan churches of more than 20 years that are organized and have a public presence. Claiming that these don’t qualify as Wiccan leaders when the leader of a particular Baptist denomination does is just prejudice.

    Pete Davis and Selena Fox have both been running public churches (with property containing building and land even) since the 1970s. Both have been highly involved in other legal cases, including supreme court cases, previously as leaders of Wiccan churchs. For example, there was a case in Florida a number of years back about a Wiccan church not being allowed to have meetings at their property. That church was a branch member (or affiliated temple, I forget the terminology) of the ATC.

    Pretending that Wicca doesn’t have any established leaders (unlike the Atheists or the Buddhists…) is just BS and a smokescreen at best.

  • Arondelle

    Odd. When I was hanging out on the pagan usenet groups and the message boards on AOL, anytime anyone brought up the mere idea of having a person or group of persons speaking for all Pagans, one could hear the cries of anguish all the way out to the rings of Saturn. :-)

    [soapbox mode on]

    I’m a freakin’ acknowledged “leader” of a Pagan Community, but no one would pay the slightest attention to me if I were to say that the Pentacle is an official symbol of my religion. I’ve wasted more printer ink than I care to think sending letters to my (non)representatives in the US Congress. Nothing has changed, but it wasn’t through lack of effort.

    Reverends Davis and Fox represent their repesective congregations and certain segments of the general Wiccan community; Issac Bonewitz (sp?) also comes to mind as a well-known leader as well. However, I personally know quite a few Wiccans who have never even heard of those three worthies, much less agree to have them speak for them.

    (Maybe it’s different where you are. I was involved with organizing the local Pagan Pride Day event a couple of years ago. I’ll never know how it was managed: the phrase “herding cats” come to mind. Everyone wanted to be the “leader;” no one wanted to be a follower, and no one was willing to let the leader do her job without a great deal whining and hurt feelings.)

    I do agree that this is a case of religious discrimination: “nobody” likes Pagans. Perhaps, we ought to study a few pages out of the Gay Community’s playbook. Come out of the broomcloset; stop acting as if we have something to hide. If we had semi-accurate numbers to back them up, Davis, Fox and Bonewitz, et al., might no longer look like the leaders of a tiny, insignificant cult or a gang of nut-jobs.

    Oh, yeah: Are you willing to donate some money to the cause? Lawyers aren’t cheap, and the opposition has tons of cash and easy access to broadcast media.

    [soapbox mode off]

  • http://www.arcanology.com Al Billings

    Who is “you” here, Arondelle? Who is the “opposition” here?

    I’m a Buddhist who used to be a Wiccan so I’m unlikely to donate money to pagan causes if pagans aren’t doing it first for their own community.

    The point of my comment is that there are as much recognized leaders within the Wiccan community as their are (or aren’t) in many loosely gathered faiths (or non-faiths in the case of Atheism) so that argument against approving a symbol doesn’t hold water.

  • Arondelle

    Al, the “you” refers to those Pagans who cry about being discriminated against, but who don’t want to stick their necks out, and the “opposition” are those who would legislate against allowing Paganism, Wicca, atheism and other minority religions their right to religious freedom.

    I don’t condone or excuse the VA’s forbidding Pagan symbols on grave markers. I think what I was trying to get across my opinion that the VA is using the lack of leaders/central authority as an excuse for not approving the symbols. It’s pretty obvious that someone is preventing them from making the approval, and that they don’t want to publicize the true reason.

    Lame excuses are all they can come up with.

    BTW, I am on Mrs. Stewart’s side (yes to pentacles, thanks!); I just have no patience with whiners who won’t walk their talk and demand their rights.

  • http://360.yahoo.com/ethlynnewillow Lynne Hoover

    It is about time that the religious right and the VA realize that this is a nation built on Constitutional rights. This country was founded to get away from religious domination and persecution. Religion has no place being administered, or qualified by ANY government office. Wicca is a recognized, founded, organized religion, and has been for many years.

    The Christian right would love to eliminate all religions but Judaeo-Christian faiths. They want our government under the control of Christian leaders, and are gradually seeking to subvert all the provisions of the Constitution regarding separation of church and state. It is time that pagans and non-pagans alike who value their liberties speak up now, and remove from office any politician or Supreme Court Judge, who attempts to inject religious ideals and agendas into House, Senate or Supreme Court activities.

    The VA has for years been behaving as though it were an independent, private entity instead of an agency of the federal government. It has no right to deny or approve anything even remotely related to religion. If Wiccan families want a pentacle inscribed on the headstones of their fallen loved ones, then that should be granted with no questions asked. As long as the family can provide the required image in the format needed, they should be able to have inscribed the religious emblem of their choice.

    It is about time that the VA, our heads of state, and the religious right realize that the people are getting very tired of the daily erosion of our rights as, first and foremost, Americans–at last check, this is still a country for the people and by the people…ALL people!!

  • Robin

    Some people are entirely too easy to offend. You will never see a Pagan wailing indignantly that their loved one is buried next to someone with a cross on his or her headstone. The very idea is repulsive.

  • http://vogelbeere.livejournal.com/ Yvonne

    As someone pointed out earlier, the pentagram was originally a Christian symbol.

    I wear one every day, so I definitely want one on my grave (unless I am buried in a woodland cemetery).

    I think veterans should have the right to the appropriate symbol on their grave, whether that is a pentacle or another Pagan symbol (if you can have so many different variations of the cross, why not a variety of Pagan symbols?)

    I also find crosses offensive (because of their association with the Crusades and the persecution of heretics), but if someone wants one on their grave, that is up to them.

  • http://vogelbeere.livejournal.com/ Yvonne

    Incidentally, maybe the US flag should be modified because it has lots of little five-pointed stars on it – wouldn’t want to offend those patriotic Christians who are saluting 50 pentagrams at once, eh?

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  • JGravitt

    There are many symbols approved by the VA for use on grave markers including an atheist symbol and 2 muslim symbols…TWO. In this day and age if the VA is actually considering what may or may not be offensive to Christians (and I don’t really care what offends them and think they deserve no special consideration) then why are these two groups exempt from the Offense clause?

    There seems to be a feeling of entitlement when it comes to some when faced by the Neo-Pagan community over their rights. Crosses worn to school, but Pents considered “disruptive”, what one man or woman wants on something as PRIVATE as their eternal resting place…it isn’t fair. These men and women fight for EVERYONE’s right to freedom of religion only to be told that because their beliefs “offend” someone, that THEY must drop to the ground and beg for any of them, even the simplest.