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Religious discrimination by the U.S. Government

Menu

The Veterans Administration's
policy concerning grave markers

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Picture of a Wiccan grave marker
Jan Deanna O'Rourke's grave marker

Quotation:

bullet Jan Deanna O'Rourke: "I am but one person, but as Americans we are many, and we will not tolerate religious persecution in the United States of America. Not in my City, Not in my State, And not in my Country!"

She spoke these words at an Interfaith and Religious Freedom Day celebration in 2004. Less than a year later, she had died and was the victim of religious intolerance by the Veterans Administration. They initially refused to issue a headstone engraved with a pentacle, the symbol of her religion.

Overview:

The Veterans' Administration (VA) will provide, upon application, a headstone or marker for the unmarked grave of most deceased veterans. They will also furnish a headstone or marker for installation in a cemetery "to commemorate any veteran whose remains have not been recovered or identified, were buried at sea, donated to science, or cremated and the remains scattered." 1 There are restrictions on eligibility. For example, veterans, -- including some who have committed criminal acts, or who have been found to be gay or lesbian -- who receive a dishonorable discharge are refused a headstone or marker. The discrimination against gays and lesbians is now part of the dustbin of history, after the ending of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell polilcy of the military during the fall of 2011.

Since 1996, Wiccans and others -- including the webmaster of this web site -- had been approaching the VA asking that the Wiccan pentacle be added to their list of allowable religious symbols. They stonewalled for over a decade. Finally, the VA was faced with a lawsuit to force them to comply with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which requires that no government law or regulation infringe on the separation of church and state. Rather than fight a lawsuit that everyone knew they would lose, the VA caved in and authorized use of the symbol in time for Memorial Day during 2007. 2

The VA website now includes the following entry in its list of "Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers." 3

37
WICCA (Pentacle)

WICCA

Topics covered in this section:

bulletReligious discrimination by the VA
 
bulletInfo. request; Government response, stonewall, & policy; lawsuit averted
 
bulletNew lawsuit launched; VA gives in; Jan O'Rourke's last wish for equality; Author's comments
 

References used:

  1. "Application for standard government headstone or marker for installation in a private or state veterans cemetery," Veterans' Administration form 40-1330, at: http://www.cem.va.gov/pdf/401330.pdf
  2. Scott Bauer, "VA Allows Wiccan Symbols on Headstones," Associated Press, 2007-APR-23, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  3. "Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers," Burial & Memorial Benefits, Veterans Benefits & Services, at: http://www.cem.va.gov/


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Home page > Religious conflict > Specific conflicts > U.S. government > here

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Copyright © 2002 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-JAN-13
Latest update: 2012-FEB-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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