Memorial Day weekend is a perfect time to report again on this story. Wiccans have been trying for years to get the Veterans Administration to allow soldiers buried in military cemetaries to have Wiccan symbols on their headstone. The latest such case involves Sgt. Patrick Stewart, a soldier who was killed in battle in Afghanistan (and posthumously awarded a Bronze Star for his actions). The VA currently recognizes over 30 religious symbols that may be placed on gravestones. There’s even one for atheists, and for religions as obscure as the United Moravian Church. But no Wiccans need apply. The VA will only say that the matter is under consideration, but they’ve been saying that for years.
Why do you suppose they’re dragging their feet? Believe it or not, I think it’s to avoid angering the religious right in the buildup to a midterm election when they need their base to turn out and vote. Most are not aware of the long battle over the issue of Wiccans in the military. Many will remember that back in 1999, Congressman Bob Barr found out that a group of Wiccan soldiers was performing religious rituals on a military base (with the full permission of the military) and threw a hissy fit. He actually tried to put in an amendment to a military appropriation bill that banned all such services; the bill failed.
What most probably don’t know is what happened in the aftermath: a group of over a dozen religious right organizations, led by Paul Weyrich (founder of the Heritage Foundation, the Free Congress Foundation, and probably the single most powerful unknown person in the religious right leadership) actually declared that Christians should boycott the military and refuse to join until they refused to allow Wiccans to serve their country:
“The official approval of satanism and witchcraft by the Army is a direct assault on the Christian faith that generations of American soldiers have fought and died for,” Paul Weyrich added. “If the Army wants witches and satanists in its ranks, then it can do it without Christians in those ranks. It’s time for the Christians in this country to put a stop to this kind of nonsense. A Christian recruiting strike will compel the Army to think seriously about what it is doing.”
And you want real irony? One of the groups joining in this boycott was called the “Religious Freedom Coalition”. Mr. Orwell, call your office.