Thursday, April 26, 2007

Wiccans Win Religious Liberty Case Against Veterans Administration

After a protracted legal battle with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Wiccans have won the right to have the symbol of their religion, the pentacle, engraved on the headstones of deceased veterans.

Represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, relatives of the fallen veterans finally had the Wiccan pentacle admitted to a list of 38 religious symbols that indicate the faith of their departed loved ones. As this article in the New York Times points out, it normally only takes a few months to gain this recognition. Wiccan families, however, fought for ten years to have their religion officially recognized.

Wicca is a pre-Christian nature religion. Although when it was first founded some of its members claimed that it was part of a Pagan faith stretching back to Old Europe’s pre-history and even referred to it as “the Old Religion,” most adherents now admit that their faith is a modern revival based on what they imagine Celtic and other ethnic groups’ Paganism might have been.

What makes this battle important is that every religion at one time was new, including Judaism and Christianity. And every new faith was denigrated and considered a cult or a fad by the prevailing dominant religion. Indeed, persecution of the new Christian faith by Imperial Rome was the perfect example of egregious religious persecution.

In America, though, minority religions are protected under the First Amendment. Although something like 85 to 90 percent of Americans consider themselves Christian, there are many followers of minority faiths such as Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, etc. Indeed, the number of faith traditions in America can be mind-boggling. But one thing all of those religions have in common is that in our nation, their rights as minority faiths is protected and they do not have to fear discrimination, especially from their government.

In this particular case, groups that normally oppose Americans United for Separation of Church and State signed on as supporters. In fact, John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, a group that usually litigates First Amendment cases in defense of religious liberty for a diverse group that includes Christian organizations, had this to say:

" 'I was just aghast that someone who would fight for their country and die for their country would not get the symbol he wanted on his gravestone,' said John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, which litigates many First Amendment cases. “ 'It’s just overt religious discrimination'.”

What makes Whitehead, himself a conservative Christian, absolutely right is that when one small minority is discriminated against, no religion is truly safe. The Wiccans victory, in this case, is a victory for religious liberty for all groups including Jews, Muslims and Christians.


Mark Brooks said...

Great post.

Also see my daughter's article she posted on my blog back in Feb.:

Symbols of Faith

Keep up the good work.


AnonymousIsAWoman said...

I read your daughter's post. It was wonderful and informative. Thank you for sharing it.