Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Religion of One

Members of a religious minority are complaining that the United States government and the military are treating them in an exclusionary and discriminatory manner.

You thought I was talking about Muslims, didn’t you?

Well, not this time. According to the Associated Press:

Wiccan pentangleThe widows of two Wiccan combat veterans sued the government Monday, saying the military has dragged its feet on allowing the religion’s symbols on headstones.

The Department of Veterans Affairs allows military families to choose any of 38 authorized headstone images. The list includes commonly recognized symbols for Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism, as well as those for smaller religions such as Sufism Reoriented, Eckiankar and the Japanese faith Seicho-No-Ie.

The Wiccan pentacle, a five-pointed star surrounded by a circle, is not on the list, an omission the widows say is unconstitutional.
- - - - - - - - - -
Wiccans worship the Earth and believe they must give to the community. Some consider themselves “white,” or good, witches, pagans or neo-pagans. Approximately 1,800 active-duty service members identify themselves as Wiccans, according to 2005 Defense Department statistics.

Some consider themselves “good witches”? What about the rest? Do they have pointy black hats and fly on broomsticks?

Witches, like any other group with a grievance, have organized themselves, hiring lawyers, publicity consultants, and — one assumes — lobbyists. Complaining to the media and filing lawsuits are, after all, part of the American Way.

[Isis Invicta Military Mission, a California-based Wiccan and pagan congregation] claims that the VA has made “excuse after excuse” for more than nine years for not approving the symbol and that by doing so, it has trampled on the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights of freedom of speech, religion and due process.


Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington, D.C.-based group representing the plaintiffs in court, is seeking an order compelling the VA to make a decision.

“After asking the VA on a number of occasions to stop its unfair treatment of Wiccans in the military, we have no alternative but to seek justice in the courts,” said the Rev. Barry Lynn, the group’s executive director.

Now that Barry Lynn is involved, the VA just might as well surrender. It doesn’t have a chance.

One thing I’d like you to notice is how much the Left approves of military widows. Goodness knows, liberals don’t approve of the way those widows are created — “Bring our boys home! No blood for oil!” — but once it finds a few of them, it milks them for all they’re worth. And then there are the grieving parents to be exploited — think of Cindy Sheehan.

They’re kind of like children: lefties don’t have many of them, and like to dispatch them while they’re still in the womb, if they can’t be prevented entirely. But you’ll notice that every progressive public policy — from setting up after-school gay sports programs, to saving the endangered Northeastern Amorphous Salamander — is designed for “the sake of the children.”

Funny about that.

But back to the witches. Here’s a quote to send chills down your spine:

“I’m hoping it’s going to open the door to allow other pagan faiths to be approved,” [plaintiff Roberta] Stewart said.

That’s exactly what it’s going to do. Do you know how many different religions there are in this country? The Veterans’ Administration will have to employ a full-time battalion of stone-chiselers just to learn and execute all the designs for the headstones.

If we can have Eckankar, why not the Moonies? Why not Scientologists? Why not the Avowed Disciples of Ung-Noth the Serpent God? Excluding them is discriminatory and unconstitutional, too.

Then there’s the Church of the Sub-Genius. Not to mention the Church of Bob. Okay, I admit, there probably aren’t that many members of the military who profess these faiths. But you never can tell…

There are a lot of hole-in-the wall churches in this country, because plenty of savvy charlatans have realized that the best way to do what they like to do without the IRS vacuuming out their strongbox is to incorporate as a religion. Every single one of them has a legal right to claim the same privileges as the Wiccans.

Driving this process to its logical conclusion would force the government to recognize the existence of no religions whatsoever, since it can’t possibly “include” them all. And that result would be perfectly fine with Barry Lynn and People for the American Way and the ACLU, because it’s exactly what they want.

Atomize us all, divide us from one another, and drive religion out of the public square. Each of us could have his own personal and idiosyncratic religion, entirely private, never to be mentioned in public.

Call it “A Religion of One.”


melonie said...

Whether I am few or many, why shouldn't I be acknowledged?

Your argument, to me, is dismissive, perhaps only because you see us as the few.

There are many manifestations of paganism, but most of us recognise each other by the symbol of the pentacle. Not unlike christians (with few exceptions) that regardless of their differences would recognise each other by the 'cross'.

Why would you suggest that we are not afforded the same recognition.

And for those that don't know and they seem many, pagans do NOT believe in a devil (just too too last century).

Blessed be.

Nate said...

I read this article. You skipped the dateline--which is the hometown of my alma mater: The University of Wisconsin in Madison.

There's lots of loonies up there. 24 square miles of fantasy surrounded by reality, as we say. Don't tell any Madisonian that Madison is the San Fransisco of the Midwest--they will immediately correct you and say that San Fransisco is the Madison of the West Coast.

I'll relate a story from my college experience up there. It was 1999 or 2000, as I recall. On the west side of town there is a large cemetery which dates to pre-Civil War times. There are lots of noteworthy Wisconsinite graves there. This same cemetery also has the distinction of being the northern-most Confederate cemetery (Camp Randall, which the University Stadium is named for, was an EPW camp for Confederate soldiers.) The cemetery was maintained in immaculate condition, with the exception of the Confederate portion. This carelessness is entirely deliberate and is out of spite for the Confederacy (understandable, but willfully disregarding graves is unholy and wrong). This is apparent to all who see the gravesite, as the rest of the cemetery wraps around the Confederate portion on three sides. This means it actually requires extra effort to withhold basic care, like lawn-mowing, than it is to provide the basic service.

You don't see such willful disregard at Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, or Vicksburg. But you see it in the People's Democratic Socialist Commune of Madison.

I'm sure the Confederate portion of the cemetery remains in its poor condition. It's located where Old University Ave and Mineral Point Road join, on the south side of the road, if any of you enterprising readers are adventursome to look at it.

This Confederate cemetery's lack of upkeep reflects the left's utter disregard for anything but the political, and the length's it goes to ensure that everything becomes political.

And nevermind that the Democratic Party was the pro-Slavery party of the South.

All that said, UW-Madison is a solid institution. Faculty are good, if almost always of liberal internationalist or liberal-Marxist bent. If you go in with a mind tempered by experience and with solid values, you can overcome the biases with reason and rhetoric.

Nate said...

Oh, and if ADM Stockdale were still with us, he'd have something to say about the pervasice "Me-ism" of this story.

Hiraethin said...

I don't see why the VA can't recognise any minority religious sect's symbol for inclusion on graves. Grave markers, by their very nature, are blank slates until the identity of the deceased is recorded upon them. Many military grave markers will display name, rank, service branch, and dates of birth and death, as well as a religious symbol. Is it so very difficult to include a pentagram instead of a cross or instead of no symbol at all? Surely it is no more difficult than inscribing a particularly lengthy or unfamiliar name. And if, by some likely chance, other faiths should then seek similar recognition - well, why not? Register the symbol with the VA. Any serviceman or woman who identifies themselves as a member of that faith might then have their faith represented on their grave marker, in the event of their being buried in a military cemetery. The artisans who engrave headstones could execute registered symbols from a VA template.

I fail to see in what way providing this service for deceased wiccan servicemen and women will cause any harm to any person or inflict any great cost at all. It is not, for me, an issue of constitutionality or a campaign to drive religion out of the public square; it is an issue of fairness. Pious deceased servicemen and women who happen not to be christians, jews or muslims, deserve the opportunity to profess their faith on their headstone, just as christians, jews and muslims may.

If you are concerned that a thousand fringe faiths might seek similar recognition, so what? Require an application signed by a serviceman or woman or, if deceased, their immediate family. A small fee might be payable. Register the symbol, include it in a VA book of templates for headstone carvers. Perhaps one serviceman might ask for it, perhaps none. What harm? If this opportunity is offered to members of the majority faith, why not to those of minority faiths? They also served, who prayed to unfamiliar gods, but fought with us.

Baron Bodissey said...

Hiraethin —

I disagree. In order to screen and moderate the use of religious symbols on tombstones in VA cemeteries, a huge bureaucracy would have to be created to vet each “faith”, consider the validity and appropriateness of its symbols, and field the countless complaints and lawsuits that would inevitably arrive from this process. The government would then be involved in something it has no business being involved with.

The symbol for one religion could well contain elements that another finds sacrilegious and offensive, which symbol would then have to be excluded or litigated. Muslims, for example, could turn out to be offended at virtually all the other faiths’ symbols.

The best thing would be to let the government be arbitrary — which is fine with me; let the government be arbitrary — and establish the list of major “faiths” by fiat. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, whatever — to be changed whenever the services see fit. Others could have a blank stone, or carved flowers, or something.

If that won’t work, give every serviceman a blank stone with name, rank, dates of service. That’s really all that is required. The government needs to stay out of inquiring about people’s religion, anyway.

When it becomes a political issue — which this very much is — it’s time to leave it out.

Douglas V. Gibbs said...

Ah, it's worse than you think. Go to the Vatican's site. Their goal is: To bring all faiths together as one faith. That inclues the Wiccas.

mts said...

This is a really edge of the 1st Amendment issue. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

Being that the stone is a governmental thing, whether provided for use in a private cemetery or in a soldiers' cemetery like Arlington, having a set of allowed symbols, and excluding others, does kind of screw with the italicized part above.

I'm with either a) staying away from a religious symbol altogether, or b) letting you put whatever is your faith's symbol in a prescribed place, provided that you pay extra for this feature. I'd prefer c) a separate, ground level, brick sized puck at the foot of the vertical marker to indicate religious affiliation, totally optional and charge a fee for it. That way, you can have a field of vision of unity and uniformity of grave markers along a sight line. The individual can then be free to express whatever on the puck - cross, star, crescent, marijuana leaf for the rasta man, circle-slash for the atheists, whatever. This way, private religious affiliation is separate from governmental grave markers, and the First Amendment is preserved, while preventing another "freedom from religion, not freedom of religion" fiasco.

rickl said...

The article said there are 38 authorized headstone images. I would be hard pressed to even name 38 religions.

Is one of the 38 authorized images the star and crescent? I would suspect so, given that there are Muslims serving in our armed forces.

If that image is permitted, then THERE IS NO DAMNED REASON why the Wiccan symbol shouldn't be. Last I heard, the Wiccans aren't screeching about killing, subduing or enslaving non-Wiccans.

Isaac said...

"True religion is that in which there is no society." Henry David Thoreau
I always took that to pretty clearly elevate the private relationship of faith between one's god and oneself to absolute primacy. This relationship cannot be altered by virtue of organization, or the lack thereof. When one enters the military they ought to be able to designate what will be going on their headstone should they die. They update their wills prior to deployment; have the same office/form take care of it. Anyone to have made the ultimate sacrifice ought to be able to have whatever they want on their own tombstone. Period. My friend from High School, Tom Adams, referenced Monty Python. He was the first US Navy casualty in this war. Is there a problem with what he chose? No. I don't see that the logical conclusion here is "forc[ing] the government to recognize the existence of no religions whatsoever...driv[ing] religion out of the public square."
The only thing we should not tolerate is intolerance. Wiccans aren't intolerant, they're just different. Atheists, aren't intolerant, they're just different. The Unarius UFO people (also of El Cajon, where our High School is) aren't intolerant, just different. Etc. The VA is wrong in this case. While I read your blog fairly regularly, find much informative and interesting, and generally agree that fanatical Muslims have brought us to new phase of a very old war - you're just wrong about this. Extend your parody of the Army's slogan, for a second, to their new one. Religion Strong. Does that not describe America? In all of its multifacetedness? Was that not a prime motivator for our Founding Fathers? I believe it was. Disparaging anyone who has died in service to our armed forces, whatever their faith, is disgusting. For a reference about my friend Tom, http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/world/iraq/memorial/20030415-9999_1m15adams.html

james said...

Smitten Eagle, I haven't been over to the Forest Hill cemetary, but somebody posted some pictures for teachers' use
here and it didn't look ill-kept that day.

I'm not saying that the town isn't well-larded with loonies...

Don Miguel said...

I read about this in a military paper a few weeks back. It said that they were going to do the headstones, but since it was a non-standard symbol it would take time to go outside of normal channels.

unaha-closp said...

What the USA military claims it can do:

An incoming projectile surrounded by dummies and chaff, of variant course, possibly undertaking inflight programmed manuver at a velocity of 10,000 mph to be intercepted by a land-based or sea-based Anti-ballistic missile technology to approach target at a similar velocity and from an obblique angle - Approved spending of military research budget.

Micro size, high yeild, nuclear device for penetration of hardened bomb resistant bunkers - Initial production to commence.

Set logistic train to any point on planet Earth, sufficient to sustain and reinforce 2 wars simultaneously - strategic deployment plan of long standing.

What the USA military cannot do:

Approve chiselling 5 pointed star on headstone of soldier who has died for the United States of America - this is too hard, too technical and too costly.

Kathy K said...

I'm with the all or none crowd. Especially since ECKANKAR is on the approved list (yes, along with Islam).

The approved list is here, for anyone who is interested. I've never heard of some of those religions - and I thought I was fairly well educated on them...

Hail Eris! (Sorry, couldn't resist.) ;)

Baron Bodissey said...

Isaac --

I’m not wrong, but I’ll suggest a place where we can find common ground. I see three choices.

1. Let the military & VA decide what to do in the cemeteries wrt headstones. They set the policy, and that’s that. This is the old way, the way it was done up to now.
2. Let anyone whose loved one is interred in the cemetery put whatever symbol they want on the headstone; no restrictions. But the family pays for it, and not the military or VA.
3. No symbols on headstones. Name, rank, and dates of service.

#1 is no longer possible, due to the litigation factor. I’ll take #2 or #3; I don’t mind which.

But make no mistake about it: this isn’t about religion or grieving spouses. This is a POLITICAL issue. That’s why #1 won’t work any more; the process has been politicized.

If it was just a matter of religious faith and a grieving spouse, and not a political issue, then Barry Lynn wouldn’t be involved. His group is not an altruistic one, and their agenda is clear.

Nate said...


Indeed, the cemetery looks much better in that picture than in my university days. Then it was entirely overgrown and full of weeds, and without the flags.

It looks better--at least at the time of the photo.


Taith (Journey) said...

I knew one of those grieving spouses. I meet her personally. I have been in contact with other of the plaintiffs via email.

So let me give you some background.

This started over 9 years ago when the first application for a Pentacle was submitted and neither accepted or rejected. The government said they were rewriting the procedures. When this legal battle began the VA asked for a minimum 1 year postponement so they could rewrite the rules again.

Rosemary was not a plaintiff for this case, as she died before her WWII Purple Heart and Bronze star husband could get a pentacle on his grave. Her children had to fight this battle. Abe's religion was important to him and his family. He was a high priest and leader in his community. I know how much this hurt his widow.

I have friend (one of Rosemary's friends) who served in Viet Nam. He is High Priest and leader in our community. He has written books on our faith. He has spent 9 years fighting the VA because he wants a Pentacle on his gravestone when he dies.

It is either all or nothing. And the government is not going to say no to the mainstream, so it is ALL.

Freedom of Religion, does not mean just the majority gets their way.