Wiccans and Pagans in the United States military

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Official VA gravestone of a Wiccan servicemember

Wiccans and Pagans in the United States military have, since the close of the 20th century, experienced a gradual increase in official recognition. The Wiccan pentacle is now an approved emblem for gravestones under the Veterans Administration, achieved in 2007 following legal action regarding the grave of Wiccan soldier Patrick Stewart. In 2011, the United States Air Force Academy dedicated an $80,000 "outdoor worship center" for "Earth-based religions" such as Paganism and traditional Native American religions.[1] As of 2015, there is no provision for official recognition of Wiccan or Pagan chaplains.[2]

A broadly neutral depiction of Wicca for a military audience is found in the 1990 version of the Department of the Army's Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for Chaplains.[3]

Demographics[edit]

Air Force dogtags with "Pagan" marking

The Navy and Army do not track numbers for Wiccans and Pagans, but a 2007 Pentagon count showed over 1,500 self-identified Wiccans in the Air Force and 350 in the Marines. Pagan advocates in 2012 estimated the military's total pagan population at 10,000-20,000, noting that some adherents may not list their affiliation on official forms, and that in the past "no preference" or "other" were the only applicable labels available.[4][5]

The Los Angeles times noted in 2011 that only three of the Air Force Academy's 4,300 cadets identified as Pagans.[1]

Controversies[edit]

In 1999, in response to a statement by Representative Bob Barr (R-GA) regarding Wiccan gatherings on military bases, the Free Congress Foundation called for U.S. citizens to not enlist or reenlist in the U.S. Army until the Army terminated the on-base freedoms of religion, speech and assembly for all Wiccan soldiers.[6][7][8] Though this movement died a "quiet death," on June 24, 1999, then-Governor George W. Bush stated on a television news program, "I don’t think witchcraft is a religion and I wish the military would take another look at this and decide against it."[9][10][11]

Chaplain Larsen case[edit]

U.S. Army Chaplain Captain Don Larsen was dismissed from his post in Iraq in 2006 after changing his religious affiliation from Pentecostal Christianity to Wicca and applying to become the first Wiccan military chaplain. His potential new endorser, the Sacred Well Congregation based in Texas, was not yet an officially recognised endorsement organisation for the military, and upon hearing of his conversion, his prior endorser, the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches, immediately revoked its endorsement. At this point, the U.S. Army was required to dismiss him from chaplaincy despite an exemplary service record.[12]

Headstone emblems[edit]

Emblem of Belief 37 –
WICCA (Pentacle)

Prior to 2007, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) did not allow the use of the pentacle as an approved emblem of belief on headstones and markers in military cemeteries. This policy was changed in April 2007 to settle a lawsuit.[9][13][14][15] In the two years following, "more than a dozen" official gravestones received the pentacle.[16]

The VA also added the hammer of Thor to the list of approved emblems in May 2013,[17][18] and the awen in 2017[19]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Air Force Academy adapts to pagans, druids, witches and Wiccans". latimes. 
  2. ^ "The Plight of Pagans in the Military". religionandpolitics.org. 
  3. ^ "US ARMY CHAPLAIN'S HANDBOOK: EXCERPT ON WICCA". religioustolerance.org. 
  4. ^ "The Plight of Pagans in the Military". religionandpolitics.org. 
  5. ^ "A Wiccan Army chaplain? The brass wouldn't buy it". The Seattle Times. 24 February 2007. 
  6. ^ "'Satanic' Army Unworthy of Representing United States" (Press release). Free Congress Foundation. 1999-06-09. Archived from the original on 2000-08-17. Retrieved 2007-07-11. 
  7. ^ Silk, Mark (Summer 1999). "Something Wiccan This Way Comes". Religion in the News. 2 (2). ISSN 1525-7207. Archived from the original on 2007-05-24. 
  8. ^ "Barr's Witch Project: Lawmaker Wants to Ban Witches from the Military". LawStreet Journal. 1999-11-01. Archived from the original on 2000-02-29. Retrieved 2007-07-11. 
  9. ^ a b Banerjee, Neela (April 24, 2007). "Use of Wiccan Symbol on Veterans' Headstones Is Approved". The New York Times. Retrieved August 1, 2013. 
  10. ^ Clifton, Chas S (2000-11-20). "Fort Hood's Wiccans and the Problem of Pacifism". Proceedings of the American Academy of Religion 2000 Meeting. Retrieved 2007-07-11. 
  11. ^ Assortment of links regarding calls to ban Wicca from military establishments: Archived June 13, 2006, at the Wayback Machine., Archived June 13, 2006, at the Wayback Machine., Archived March 28, 2004, at the Wayback Machine., Archived September 12, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ Cooperman, Alan (2007-02-19). "For Gods and Country". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  13. ^ "Veterans Affairs Department Must Accommodate Wiccan Symbol On Memorial Markers At Government Cemeteries, Says Americans United" (Press release). AU. June 8, 2006. Retrieved July 11, 2007. 
  14. ^ "Stewart v. Nicholson". AU. Retrieved August 5, 2013. 
  15. ^ "Veterans Win Right to Post Religious Symbol on Headstones" (Press release). ACLU. April 23, 2007. Retrieved 5 August 2013. 
  16. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/31/us/31religion.html?_r=0
  17. ^ Elysia. "Hammer of Thor now VA accepted symbol of faith". Llewellyn. Retrieved 12 May 2013. 
  18. ^ "National Cemetery Administration: Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers". U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved 12 May 2013. 37 – WICCA (Pentacle), 55 – Hammer of Thor 
  19. ^ http://wildhunt.org/2017/01/druid-symbol-approved-for-veteran-headstones.html