Thursday, August 30, 2007


2008 won't come soon enough...

Rev. Barry Lynn Demands Presidential Apology

On Tuesday, August 28, following an address to the American Legion's
national convention in Reno, Nevada, President George W. Bush met with
northern Nevada family members of soldiers who have perished in combat.

Roberta Stewart, a Wiccan whose husband, Sgt. Patrick Stewart, was killed
in combat in the war in Afghanistan, was not invited.

"I'm upset that I wasn't invited," Roberta said of the meeting. "I think it
is because of my faith. I feel like I've been discriminated against again."

In 2006, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) sued the
US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in federal court representing
Roberta Stewart; her church, Circle Sanctuary; and others. AU argued that
the VA's refusal to recognize the pentacle as a symbol of faith violated
the religious liberty rights of Wiccan service members and their families
and subverted the separation of church and state.

Earlier this year, the VA settled the lawsuit and finally added the
pentacle to its list of religious symbols that are permitted on the
gravestones it issues to honor deceased veterans.

"I had hoped that with this settlement, that finally the Executive branch
of the federal government was giving equal treatment to Wiccan veterans and
their families. However, it seems that the White House is still not doing
this, and I find the exclusion of Roberta Stewart from this meeting
appalling," said Rev. Selena Fox, senior minister of Circle Sanctuary.
Sgt. Stewart's VA-issued gravestone with pentacle was dedicated on Memorial
Day at the church's national cemetery near Barneveld, Wisconsin.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, also
condemned Bush's snub of Stewart. "The president should issue an apology
to Roberta Stewart," Lynn said. "She stood courageously for religious
freedom for all soldiers, and the president was wrong to treat her so

During the litigation, AU attorneys unearthed evidence that the VA's
refusal to recognize the pentacle may have been motivated by bias toward
the Wiccan faith.

It appeared that the VA did not want to recognize the faith, which
President Bush has publicly derided in the past.

Lynn said the president's snub of Roberta Stewart smacked of retaliation
for her public and successful stand against the administration policy.

"President Bush seems to be continuing a pattern of hostility toward the
Wiccan faith," he said. "That's an outrage. America is a nation of great
religious diversity, and all public officials, especially the president,
have an obligation to serve all of the people. Our Constitution mandates
equal treatment of all faiths."