Pagan Culture - Interviews

Pagan Discrimination in the U.S. Military

The Cases of Patrick Stewart (We Won!) & Donald Larson

• Sgt. Stewart, a veteran of Desert Storm, was killed in 2005 when his helicopter was shot down over Afghanistan. Despite repeated efforts to secure a pentacle on his memorial, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs would not allow the symbol to be used. The official reasons featured endless rounds of bureaucracy red tape. In September of 2006, the Attorney General of Stewart’s home state, Nevada, overruled the Veteran’s Administration and the pentacle was installed on Stewart’s grave in November.

Although Wicca is recognized and described in the U.S. Army’s Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for Chaplains, until late April, 2007, there was no official symbols or clergy approved for Pagan or Heathen personnel. Efforts to get the pentacle approved for official use finally were rewarded on April 23, 2007, when the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs settled a lawsuit brought by veteran’s widows, Circle Sanctuary, and Isis Invicta Military Mission alleging that the VA had deliberately delayed and obstructed their requests to allow the allow a pentacle to be placed on grave markers of deceased service personnel. The agreement settled a lawsuit which was scheduled to go to trial in June in federal court. There are 38 other religious symbols approved by the Veteran’s Administration, including symbols for Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Sufism. “This settlement has forced the Bush Administration into acknowledging that there are no second class religions in America,’’ said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of the Wiccans. “It is a proud day for religious freedom in the United States.’’1

• Former Chaplain Larson was originally a Pentecostal (Christian) minister. He converted to Wicca and petitioned, on July 6, 2006, to become the Army’s first Wiccan chaplain. His request was denied on red-tape grounds, and he was shipped home from Iraq and ejected from the chaplain corps by the end of that year. As of this writing, there are no Pagan or Heathen chaplains in the service. “More than one hundred and thirty religious groups have endorsed, or certified, chaplains to serve in uniform,” writes journalist Alan Cooper, “But efforts by Wiccan organizations to join the list have repeatedly been denied by the Pentagon.”2

(To find out more, see Circle Sanctuary’s ongoing efforts to uphold Pagan Civil rights: PHIL BRUCATO.

1 “Wiccans will be allowed to place pentacles on graves, VA says”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, April 23, 2007.

2 Alan Cooper, “For Gods and Country,” The Washington Post, 2/14/07.

On the Don Larson affair

On the Sgt. Patrick Stewart/ Pentacle affair

This article first appeared in newWitch #15

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