ACLU and Pagans Sue on Emblem for Graves
Pagans Sue on Emblem for Graves
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
Published: September 30, 2006
Military veterans are entitled to have their headstones engraved by the government with a symbol of their religion. Families of the deceased may choose from emblems representing a variety of 18 Christian churches, a number of Buddhist sects, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism and atheism (represented by an atom with an A inside) 38 religious symbols in all.
But not the Wiccan pentacle, which the Department of Veterans Affairs has neither approved nor disallowed despite various petitions over the last nine years.
Yesterday three Wiccan families and two Wiccan churches sued to force the department to include their symbol a five-pointed star inside a circle on the list of approved emblems.
Wiccans, also called pagans, are often wrongly confused with Satanists. Theirs is a nature-based religion recognized by the Internal Revenue Service, and by the military itself in its chaplains' handbooks and on the dog tags that troops wear around their necks. There are an increasing number of Wiccans (pronounced WIK-ens) in the armed forces 1,800, according to a Pentagon survey cited in the suit.
The American Civil Liberties Union, representing the plaintiffs, brought the action in the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, in Washington. A spokesman for the V.A. did not respond to requests for an interview.
In the years that Wiccans have been petitioning, the department has approved emblems for at least six groups, including the obscure Izumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii.
Kathleen Egbert, a Wiccan priestess in Laurel, Md., is among the plaintiffs. Her father, Abraham Kooiman, fought in World War II and received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He died in 2001 at age 77 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, a Wiccan without a symbol on his headstone.
"I'm angry," Ms. Egbert said, "because if pagans can fight and die for our country, we should be recognized by our country the same way anyone else would be."