The widow of a Nevada soldier is taking her fight for a veteran's memorial plaque recognizing her husband's Wiccan religion to the nation's capital.
Roberta Stewart will a guest speaker Tuesday at a Fourth of July
interfaith religious rights rally in Washington, D.C.
Stewart's husband, Nevada Army National Guard Sgt. Patrick
Stewart, died Sept. 25 when his Chinook helicopter was shot down in
Afghanistan. Four others also died.
The Wiccan faith is not among the 38 religions recognized by the
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The agency so far has refused to grant the Stewart family's
request to have the Wiccan pentacle, a five-pointed star surrounded
by a circle, placed on Stewart's government-issued plaque at the
Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery.
Wiccans worship the Earth and believe they must give to the
community. Some consider themselves "white" or good witches,
pagans or neo-pagans.
"I should be spending the Fourth of July with my kids,"
Roberta Stewart told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "This is a family
that they are torturing. We're a family that needs to lay their
fallen hero to rest."
Since her husband's death, Stewart has petitioned for
recognition through the Memorial Programs Service Office and
received the assistance of Nevada politicians. On Memorial Day, she
organized the Sgt. Patrick Stewart Freedom for All Faiths Memorial
Service at the Out of Town Park in Fernley, where about 300 people
Josephine Schuda, spokeswoman for the VA central office in D.C.,
said no action has been taken but department lawyers recently said
the process the National Cemetery Administration used to
established its directives regarding the approval process may not
be "legally sufficient."
"They are reviewing the process," she told the newspaper.
"It's apparently contributed in further delay."
While in Washington, Stewart said she has a scheduled
appointment with William Tuerk, undersecretary for Memorial
Affairs, in her final attempt to get the pentacle recognized.
She has not ruled out a lawsuit.
"I have sought legal counsel and I will be retaining it to
pursue things to the next level," she said. "I will do what I
have to do to put my husband to rest and stand up for the
constitutional rights of all Americans."