Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Blessed Be, y'all

My brother sent me an e-mail about this yesterday: the Department of Veteran Affairs has reached a settlement in a lawsuit and added the Wiccan pentacle to the list of available emblems of belief for tombstones.
Facing lawsuits by veterans and their families, the Bush administration relented yesterday and agreed to allow the Wiccan pentacle -- a five-pointed star inside a circle -- on tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery and other U.S. military burial grounds.


[F]or nearly a decade, the department had refused to act on requests for the pentacle, without a clear reason. VA spokesman Matt Burns said that approximately 10 applications were pending from adherents of Wicca, a blend of witchcraft and nature worship that is one of the country's fastest-growing religions.


"This is a complete capitulation by the administration," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which filed suit last year on behalf of Wiccan veterans.

This is certainly a great victory. The settlement also says that the VA will compensate the plaintiffs with $225,000 for attorneys' fees. But I found this interesting:
The settlement stipulates, however, that the plaintiffs must not keep or disclose any documents handed over by the government during the discovery phase of the lawsuit. Lawyers familiar with the case said that some documents suggested the VA had political motives for rejecting the pentacle.

During his first campaign for president, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush told ABC's "Good Morning America" in 1999 that he was opposed to Wiccan soldiers practicing their faith at Fort Hood, Tex. "I don't think witchcraft is a religion, and I wish the military would take another look at this and decide against it," he said.

Lynn, of Americans United, said references to Bush's remarks appeared in memos and e-mails within the VA.

"One of the saddest things is to learn that this wasn't just a bureaucratic nightmare, there was a certain amount of bigotry," he said. "The president's wishes were interpreted at a pretty high level. . . . It became a political judgment, not a constitutional judgment."

VA officials didn't respond to those assertions, and the New York Times article mentions that part of the settlement, but claimed that Americans United didn't assert that Bush had any part in this issue.
In reviewing 30,000 pages of documents from Veterans Affairs, Americans United said, it found e-mail and memorandums referring to negative comments President Bush made about Wicca in an interview with "Good Morning America" in 1999, when he was governor of Texas. The interview had to do with a controversy at the time about Wiccan soldiers' being allowed to worship at Fort Hood, Tex.

"I don't think witchcraft is a religion," Mr. Bush said at the time, according to a transcript. "I would hope the military officials would take a second look at the decision they made."

Americans United did not assert that the White House influenced the Veterans Affairs Department. Under the settlement, Americans United had to return the documents and could not copy them, though it could make limited comments about their contents, Mr. Katskee said.

Anywho. You can get a PDF of the settlement from the AU's website.

I can only imagine that it won't be long before the real lunatics like Stop the ACLU or WorldNetDaily start lambasting this decision. Some people already have (though from my skimming, comments have mostly been very positive):
lucyrau One more example for Christians which illustrates why we shouldn't complain so loudly for religious provision in government. Separation of Church and State has come to mean separation of Christianity and everyone else. This trend will not change. Christians will continue to be discriminated against, so ultimately fighting for religious freedom gains us nothing, but only benefits non Christians.

Now if only they'll start allowing Wiccan chaplains....

No comments: