28 May 2006

Religious Discrimination and National Cemeteries

It seems that the National Cemetery Administration (part of the VA) is having some difficulties comprehending both the spirit and letter of the Constitution. The widow of an Afghanistan casualty wants to have an emblem representing his religion placed on his government-provided memorial. The VA is currently refusing. The problem is simple - they will only place approved religious emblems on the markers, and the marker that she wants isn't one of the following approved symbols:
Christian Cross
Buddhist Wheel of Righteousness
Hebrew Star of David
Presbyterian Cross
Russian Orthodox Cross
Lutheran Cross
Episcopal Cross
Unitarian Church Flaming Chalice
United Methodist Church (Cross)
Aaronic Order (Cross)
Mormon (Angel Moroni)
Native American Church of North America (teepee)
Serbian Orthodox Cross
Greek Cross
Bahai Nine-Pointed Star
Atheist (Atomic-symbol with "A" in center)
Muslim (Crescent and Star)
Konko-Kyo Faith
Community of Christ
Sufism Reoriented
Tenriko Church
Church of World Messianity (Izunome)
United Church of Religious Science
Christian Reformed Church
United Moravian Church
Christian Church
Christian and Missionary Alliance
United Church of Christ
Humanist Emblem of Spirit
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Izumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii
Soka Gakkai International (USA)
Sikh (Khanda)
Christian Science (Cross and Crown)
Muslim (Islamic Five-Pointed Star)
Raise your hand if you know about all of those groups. Anyone? As hard as this might be to believe, there is actually a religion practiced by people in the American military that does not appear on that list: Wicca.

That's right, Sgt. Stewart was a Wiccan, his wife and daughter are Wiccans, and they would like the government to treat his faith with the same respect that they offer the members of Izumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii. Approving a religious emblem for the Wiccans should be a no-brainer for the VA. The Army, after all, has recognized Wicca as a faith since the late 1990s. In fact, my wife tells me that Wiccan services were held by one of the units when she was at the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin. So far, however, the VA has not seen fit to act - despite requests for approval of a Wiccan emblem dating back to 1997, and despite their approval of several other emblems since then. In fairness, I should note that the VA has said that a decision would be coming "soon." Two months ago.

I would call this an outrage, but that would be a gross understatemnt. I would say that I am surprised, but given that Bush spoke out against Wiccans in the military while mismanaging Texas, and given his propensity for pandering to Christian extremists at every opportunity, I am not.

I do think, however, that something should be done.

The VA Undersecretary for Memorial Affairs is William F. Tuerk.
The snail-mail address is:
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
National Cemetery Administration
810 Vermont Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20420

I was only able to locate general hotline phone and email information:

Go ahead and contact those numbers anyway - I used to work on a constituent hotline, and I can tell you that if nothing else, there will be a report generated on the number of calls an issue is getting.

You should also contact your Congresscritters. Let them know that you vote, and (if appropriate), remind them that this is an election year.

(via Dispatches from the Culture Wars)
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