Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Presidential Snub of Wiccan War Widow

A picture of Patrick and Roberta Stewart on their wedding day, along with memories of her loving husband, help Roberta get through each day.

On September 25, 2005, with honor, Sgt. Patrick D. Stewart, 113th Aviation, D company, Mustangs, of the Nevada National Guard, gave his life for his country. He was killed in action in Operation Enduring Freedom. Mustang 22, the Chinook helicopter he was in was shot down in Afghanistan by Al Quada terrorists.
Determined to honor her husband, Roberta spent years fighting the US Department of Veterans Affairs for the right of her husband to have the symbol of their faith, the Wiccan symbol, on his grave marker.

Wicca is a nature-based religion grounded in pre-Christian beliefs. Circle Sanctuary says the Wiccan religion honors the Divine as both Mother and Father, encompasses love and respect of Nature, celebrates the cycles of Sun and Moon, and encourages adherents to live in harmony with other humans and the greater Circle of Life.

Patrick and Roberta practice the Wiccan faith, they were married in a Wiccan ceremony, and Patrick had "Wiccan" placed on his dog-tags to designate his faith tradition.

With help from Americans United for Separation of Church and State's legal department, last April the Department of Veterans Affairs settled the lawsuit brought by Stewart (and others).

One might think that would be the end of the story. Think again.

Following an address to the American Legion’s national convention in Reno on Tuesday, President Bush met with northern Nevada family members of soldiers who have perished in combat. Everyone, that is, EXCEPT Roberta Stewart.

Stewart wasn't invited, even though other relatives of Sgt. Stewart were.

A press release issued by Americans United says:

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Sgt. Stewart’s parents and brother were invited to the brief, private meeting with the president. So was the widow of one of the other National Guardsmen killed with Sgt. Stewart when their Chinook helicopter was shot down.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, 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 shabbily.” [...]

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.”
Is there no end to this president's shameful behavior?
from Americans United for Separation of Church and State:

President Says Deceased Veteran's Wife Should Have Been Included In Meeting With Families Of Fallen Service Personnel

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today commended President George W. Bush for his apology to a Wiccan war widow who was excluded from a private meeting with veterans and their deceased family members in Nevada earlier this week. (more)


Dr. Zaius said...

Thank you for this update on this story. I had not heard this latest part of the tale.

BAC said...

Yes, Roberta Stewart called Barry Lynn to let him know that Bush had called her. It's the least Bush could do, given that he dissed her during his visit.


Anonymous said...

Blessed be.. May Patrick and his family know peace. It warms my heart to know they where allowed to place their religious symbol on his marker and that this issue is resolved.