Wiccan Soldier Honored

The space on a memorial wall in Fernley for a fallen Nevada soldier is empty no longer.

A plaque with the Wiccan religious symbol was installed Monday on the Veterans' Memorial Wall at the Northern Nevada Veterans Cemetery for Sgt. Patrick Stewart.

The Nevada Army National Guardsmen and four other soldiers died
Sept. 25, 2005 when their Chinook helicopter was shot down in
Afghanistan.

Since then, Stewart's widow, Roberta, has been fighting to have the Department of Veterans Affairs recognize the Wiccan pentacle - a five-pointed star enclosed in a circle - for plagues and headstones at veterans' cemeteries.

Wiccans worship the earth and believe they must give to the community. Some consider themselves good witches, pagans or neo-pagans.

The Veterans Affairs' National Cemetery Administration allows only approved emblems of religious beliefs on government headstones. Over the years, it has approved more than 30, including symbols for the Tenrikyo Church, United Moravian Church and Sikhs. There is also an emblem for atheists.

But leaders of the Wiccan faith say they've been trying for nine years to have their symbol recognized by the federal government.

This fall, the Nevada Office of Veterans Services decided it had the authority to put the Wiccan emblem on a plaque for Stewart, since the Fernley memorial is at a state veterans' cemetery.

Roberta Stewart said she was pleased with the plaque, but would continue her struggle with the federal government.

Earlier this month, she and others filed a federal lawsuit, claiming the VA's failure to approve the Wiccan symbol amounts to constitutional violations of free speech, freedom of religion and due process.


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