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Amidst a sea of memorial plaques at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery, one space remains blank.

That space is waiting to be filled by a plaque honoring the life and sacrifice of 34-year-old Sgt. Patrick Stewart, who was killed in action on September 25, 2005, when his helicopter was struck with a rocket-propelled grenade as it flew over Afghanistan. But it may be some time before Sgt. Stewart is remembered with a memorial plaque. That's because his war widow and the Department of Veterans Affairs are at odds over the Stewart family's request to have the Wiccan pentacle, a five-pointed star surrounded by a circle, placed on the plaque. As of May 31, 2006, government officials have refused to allow the Wiccan symbol to be placed on Stewart's plaque.

Sgt. Stewart identified himself as belonging to the Wiccan faith. Although Wiccans are not considered part of America's mainstream religious establishment, they are a growing minority. According to 2005 Defense Department statistics, approximately 1,800 active-duty service members identify themselves as belonging to the alternative religion that subscribes to magical activities and Earth worship.

According to federal guidelines, only approved religious symbols—of which there are 30—can be placed on government headstones or memorial plaques. Included among the 30 approved symbols are those that represent such mainstream religions as Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism. The list also includes more obscure religions like Konko-Kyo Faith and Seicho-No-Ie. And while the list does not include a symbol for the Wiccan faith, incredibly enough, it does include symbols for atheism and humanism.

Whatever one's opinion might be about the Wiccan faith, there should ...

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June 2006

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