Rev. Selena Fox
Senior Minister of Circle Sanctuary
As of August 27, 2006
This is the story of the Veteran Pentacle Quest.
In writing this report, I share experiences, perspectives, and facts. This Quest does not yet have a happy ending. It is ongoing.
I tell this true tale of our struggle for equal rights for our people in hopes that support will continue to grow and we will successfully and soon obtain our goal - to get the Pentacle added to the National Cemetery Administration's list of emblems of belief that can be included on the grave markers of our deceased veterans.
The National Cemetery Administration (NCA) is the part of the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) responsible for overseeing and providing memorial markers, headstones, and plaques for veterans after death. To get this benefit, which is available to all who have served in the US military, the next of kin of a deceased veteran must complete an application and send it to the VA. The next of kin have the choice of several styles of grave markers -- an upright headstone of marble or granite, a bronze niche marker or memorial wall plaque, or a recumbent marker of bronze, granite, or marble. These headstones and markers include the full name of the deceased, branch of military service and rank, and dates of birth and death. Notations of any war service and medals can be included, if applicable and requested. In addition, the VA will include the emblem of belief of the deceased veteran if that symbol is on its NCA's "emblems of belief list".
The Quest to get the Pentacle, the Wiccan emblem of belief, added to this NCA list began in 1997. On July 27 of that year, John Machate, founder and coordinator of the Military Pagan Network, emailed the VA and asked what was required for the addition of an emblem of belief to the National Cemetery Administration's list. On August 11, the VA sent an email reply and indicated that all that was needed was "a formal request from an ordained Rabbi, Priest, or Minister including detailed information on the emblem as well as a graphic." The VA also stated "please understand that submissions do not automatically constitute approval. You will be notified of the Director's decision by mail."
Aquarian Tabernacle Church
On August 27, 1997, the Rt. Rev. Pete Pathfinder Davis, Archpriest of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC), headquartered in Index, Washington, sent the required materials to the VA and applied for the addition of the Pentacle to the NCA list. Although the VA received ATC's application, it did not issue a decision. In fact, it ignored this request. The VA did not issue a response until November 27, 2001, and then their response was that the VA was in the midst of drafting new procedures for emblem additions to the NCA list.
On December 15, 2003, Rev. Davis sent in a follow-up request for the addition of the Pentacle and included the additional information that was required by procedures the VA adopted in 2001. The ATC's application was again ignored.
Then on April 22, 2005, Rev. Davis wrote the VA again and urged the VA to approve the addition of the Pentacle to the list. On May 10, the Acting Director of the NCA's Memorial Programs Service (MPS) office replied and stated that the VA was revising its procedures and that approval had to wait until the new procedures were adopted. In this letter, the Acting Director claimed that the VA had no record of ATC's 2003 letter, yet as a result of a 2005 Freedom of Information Act request made by ATC member Scott Stearns, the VA included a copy of it.
On October 4, 2005, Scott Stearns spoke out about the need to include the Pentacle on the NCA list in his interview that appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Scott, a Navy veteran who took medical retirement after a diagnosis of leukemia in 1996, stated that he wanted the VA to add the Pentacle to the NCA list so that he could have it on his grave marker after he dies. Scott, who presently works for the VA in Washington State, expressed his disdain for the VA keeping the Pentacle pending for years. The article also mentioned that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had agreed to help Scott in his efforts to get the Pentacle on the NCA list.
In January 2006, ATC added additional materials to its application to fulfill requirements of the new procedures NCA adopted in 2005. ATC and Scott Stearns continued communications with ACLU attorneys for possible litigation.
Isis Invicta Mission
The second application for the addition of the Pentacle to the NCA list was made in September of 1998 by Rev. Rona Russell, Priestess of the Isis Invicta Military Mission of the Temple and Lyceum of Isis Fortuna. She made the request on behalf of some Wiccan members of the Mission who were on active duty in the US military. In her letter to the VA, she stated that she herself was a veteran as well as married to an active duty service member. She mentioned in her letter that she was a Designated Faith Group Leader who coordinated and performed religious services at the Taylor Barracks Chapel in Mannheim, Germany, where she and her husband were stationed. Rev. Russell provided all the information that the VA required. The VA did not issue a decision, and did not even acknowledge or reply to her application.
In January 1999, Rev. Russell contacted the Memorial Programs Service (MPS) office of the National Cemetery Administration by telephone and obtained contact information for another VA official. In February, Rev. Russell, who had returned to the US and relocated in Tennessee, resent her application to have the Pentacle added to the NCA list. The VA did not issue a decision or reply.
In June of 1999, Rev. Russell wrote to the VA a third time. She again submitted the required materials, and wrote: "I have yet to receive any notification of any kind, either approval or disapproval. I fear that my applications have been discarded out of discrimination. I would appreciate a timely reply this time around." Rev. Russell followed up her written request for a decision with a phone message.
Finally on July 14, 1999, the VA replied, saying, "Thank you for your telephone call. Your letter did arrive. We expect to have a final response to you within a week or so."
However, two weeks later, on July 29, the VA's MPS Director said that requests to add emblems "are presented to the Advisory Committee on Cemeteries and Memorials to seek the Committee members' advice and counsel before rulings are made affecting our regulations. Your request will be submitted for the Committee's consideration at their fall 1999 meeting. Their recommendation will then be reported for consideration by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and National Cemetery Administration (NCA) management." He also stated: "NCA is currently reviewing and drafting proposed regulations pertaining to national cemeteries, including the Headstone and Marker Program. This process has proved to be more complicated than we had anticipated, but we hope to have the proposed regulations published in the Federal Register this year. When they are published, there will be a specified 60 day period for public comment."
After not hearing back from the VA, on January 2, 2000, Rev. Russell sent the VA an email stating: "I have yet to receive any news of what the committee's actions were. I would really like to hear some kind of reply. Thank you." The VA did not reply. Then on January 20, Rev. Russell telephoned the VA and left a message and asked for a reply, but the VA did not give one.
On February 9, Rev. Russell telephoned the VA again. This time she spoke with a VA official and requested a letter from the VA reporting on the status of her application for the addition of the Pentacle to the NCA list. The VA official stated that she would send the requested status report by postal mail. The VA official also stated that no other applications from groups had been approved and that they were currently on hold. The VA did not issue a decision on Rev. Russell's Pentacle application and never sent the promised status report.
On May 9, 2001, the VA adopted its new procedures. It issued NCA Directive 3310 Emblems of Government-provided Headstones and Markers. As with the procedures in effect in 1997, a graphic depiction of the emblem of belief and a written description of its meaning were required. What changed was that "the recognized head of the organization" needed to make the application and provide "a brief description of the organization, with specific information, to include national officers, number of chapters, the total number of members and years of operation in the United States, and affiliation with other organizations."
The VA referred to this 2001 Directive in approving the addition of emblems of belief for other groups in 2002, 2003, and 2004. Although the VA adopted these new procedures in May 2001, it did not mention this to the two groups that had Pentacle addition applications pending, the Aquarian Tabernacle Church and the Isis Invicta Mission.
On November 28, 2001, the Director of MPS wrote a letter to the Aquarian Tabernacle Church. Instead of telling ATC about the new procedures adopted on May 9, he stated that the VA was still revising its regulations. Also on November 28, the Director of MPS sent a similar letter to the Military Pagan Network, even though the MPN never applied for the addition of the Pentacle but only asked about procedures for emblem of belief addition to the NCA list.
Rev. Russell of the Isis Invicta Mission, who had applied by submitting required material three different times and who had been repeatedly in touch with the VA over a three year period of time did not get this letter or any communication from the VA.
NCA Approves Other Emblems
In 2002, although both Pentacle applications were kept pending under the excuse that new procedures were being drafted, the VA approved the addition of an emblem of a Christian group. On July 3, the VA added the logo of the Christian and Missionary Alliance to its NCA list and it became emblem #30. The VA's internal approval memo for this logo stated: "NCA Directive 3310, Emblems on Government-Provided Headstones or Markers, was approved on May 9, 2001. The directive established policy on expanding the National Cemetery Administration's approved list of emblems of belief for Government-provided headstones or markers." Signing on for approval were the Director of MPS (signed on July 3), Deputy Under Secretary for Operations (on May 8), Deputy Under Secretary for Management (on July 3), and the authorizing approval signature of the Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs and head of the NCA (on July 3). The group made its request on March 12, 2002 and the VA took less than 4 months for consideration and approval of the addition of the emblem.
In 2003, the Pentacle was again kept pending while emblems of belief for other groups were added to the NCA list. On June 13, the United Church of Christ emblem, which had been on the list previously but not depicted, changed to being depicted and was added to the list as emblem #31. On July 25, 2003, the Humanist "Emblem of Spirit" was added and became emblem #32. The VA's consideration and approval period for the Humanist emblem addition, requested on June 21, 2002 and again on September 20, 2002, was approximately thirteen months. The Presbyterian Church, which already had its Cross on the NCA list (emblem #4) asked on July 2, 2003 for a second emblem to be added. This process took about three months, and on October 9, its logo was approved and became emblem #33. The approval process in 2003 and in 2004 for additions to the emblems of belief list only required signatures of two people -- that of the Director of MPS and the head of NCA, whose official title is the Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs.
Nomadic Chantry of the Gramarye
In 2003, Rosemary Kooiman, the High Priestess of the Nomadic Chantry of the Gramarye, a Wiccan group based in Maryland, applied to the VA for the addition of the Pentacle to the NCA list. Rosemary's husband Abe (Abraham) Martin Kooiman had died on December 19, 2002 and was interred in Arlington National Cemetery on May 22, 2003. Abe was a Wiccan and a decorated World War II veteran. Rosemary wanted the Wiccan Pentacle included on Abe's headstone. According to Rosemary, when she communicated with the Director of MPS, he told her that the NCA's "proposed regulations were in draft and not yet implemented." Rosemary also reported that, "He gave no indication when this might be, nor did he say it was even on an agenda." The letter she received from MPS also included a statement of the requirements for belief addition in effect since 2001.
Rosemary learned from the American Legion National Headquarters in Washington, DC that Pentacle requests were already pending with NCA. She decided to accept an interim headstone without the Pentacle on it for her late husband. Rosemary was told that the Pentacle would be inscribed after it had been added to the NCA list. She continued to urge the VA to approve the Pentacle for the next three years, with the help of Charles Arnold and the Pagan Headstone Campaign discussion list, which he founded. In 2006, Rosemary appended her Pentacle request for Abe's headstone to ATC's application. However, Rosemary died on March 5, 2006 without her last request of having the Pentacle added to her husband's headstone being fulfilled.
NCA Expedites Approval of Other Emblems
In 2004, the Pentacle was kept pending while even more emblems of belief for other groups were added expeditiously to the NCA list. It only took about six weeks to consider and approve the symbol of the Izumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii, which became emblem #34. Its addition was requested on January 22 and the final approval signature was obtained on March 3. On February 3, the Soka Gakkai International - USA requested that their Buddhist symbol be added to the NCA emblems of belief list. It was approved eleven weeks later, on April 21 and added to the list as emblem #35. On May 10, the VA approved the request of the Unitarian Universalist Association to substitute a different emblem. The UUA emblem #8, which had been a flame above a chalice, became a flaming chalice in a circle.
The VA greatly expedited the approval of the Sikh emblem so that it could be added to the headstone of an Army sergeant killed in combat and buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The Sikh symbol became emblem #36 in about two weeks. The letter from the head of the Sikh organization requesting the addition was dated May 12. The Director of MPS signed the memo for approval on May 25 and the head of the NCA finalized approval two days later. In addition, the VA also expedited the inscription of the emblem on the deceased Sikh soldier's headstone in time for his family's visit in mid-June. It took about a month from the time the VA received the request to add the Sikh emblem from the head of a Sikh organization to the time the emblem was engraved on the headstone.
More Wiccan Groups Apply
In 2004, other Wiccan groups asked the VA to add the Pentacle to its list. On April 8, the Director of MPS replied to a letter from a Wiccan group inquiring about the status of Pentacle addition applications that the VA had not yet approved. In that reply, the VA stated "If there is a demand for a particular emblem and the national organization overseeing that belief submits a request to VA, we will attempt to honor that request. However, it is not feasible for VA to alter its contracts for 350,000 headstones and markers yearly to accommodate requests from organizations with only a few hundred or fewer members, of which a small percentage are eligible veterans." This statement reveals a disregard of the federal government's own accounting of at least 1,800 Wiccans and those of similar beliefs on active duty in the US Air Force.
On July 22, 2004, the VA replied to a Wiccan from another group who had contacted the VA on behalf of a widow who wanted to have the Pentacle included on her husband's headstone. In a previous letter to the VA, that Wiccan apparently had misconstrued the VA procedures requiring the need for the head of an organization to make the request for emblem addition to mean the head of the whole religion. That Wiccan told the VA that there was no head of the Wiccan religion. In its reply, the VA took this misunderstanding as an opportunity to decline this particular request to add the Pentacle, instead of writing the Wiccan and clarifying that what it needed was a request from the head of a denomination or organization, not the entire religion, just as is the case with Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist groups with unique emblems on the list representing different branches and denominations of their religions. Regardless of this communication exchange, the VA already had failed to add the Pentacle to its list for seven years.
In 2005, three of America's largest Wiccan churches applied to the VA for the addition of the Pentacle to the NCA list. On January 4, Rev. Davron Michael, Administrative Director of the Correllian Nativist Church International applied. On March 25, the Acting Director of the MPS acknowledged the receipt of his request and indicated that "a formal decision has not yet been made. We are currently in the process of revising and clarifying our policy." The VA also stated "Your request will be considered, along with other pending requests, upon completion of our policy revision." Rev. Michael followed up with telephone calls to the VA over several months, and then had a church attorney file a Freedom of Information Act request to learn more about the VA's history of adding emblems to its NCA list.
On April 7, 2005, Rev. Kathryn Fuller, National First Officer of the Covenant of the Goddess (COG) applied for the addition of the Pentacle to the NCA list. This application was initiated by Rev. Paula Johnson, First Officer of Everglades Moon Local Council of COG, on behalf of COG member Jan Deanna O'Roarke who, just days before she was killed, had requested that a Pentacle grace her headstone. Jan was buried in Arlington National Cemetery alongside her husband in February 2005.
On July 7, 2005, COG resubmitted its application since it never received a response from the VA. On August 11, the Acting Director of MPS wrote to Rev. Johnson and stated that the VA had no record of COG's April 7 application. The VA also indicated that procedures were being revised and stated "No requests are being processed until these new procedures are finalized."
Circle Sanctuary Applies
On April 8, 2005, Circle Sanctuary submitted its own application to the VA for the addition of the Pentacle to the NCA list. Since 1997 when the Quest began, we had been supportive of efforts by others to get the Pentacle added to the NCA list. Knowing that ATC had applied, we did not deem it necessary to also apply. Instead, we focused our efforts on providing other types of support for military Wiccans. However, in 2003, when Rosemary Kooiman told me about her difficulties in getting the Pentacle on Abe's gravestone, I formed a Lady Liberty League task force to investigate the failure of the VA to add the Pentacle to its NCA list. We began researching and discussing possible approaches to achieving this goal.
Circle Sanctuary decided to submit our own application to the VA for several reasons: (1) increasing numbers of our church members were being deployed to fight in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, (2) we had church members who were veterans and in the final stages of life, and (3) we had decades of successful religious accommodation experiences with other federal government agencies. In 1984, at the request of government officials, I revised the Wiccan religion section of the US Army's Chaplains Handbook, and in the 1990s, I served as a consultant on the Wiccan religion to the Armed Forces Chaplains Board at the Pentagon. In addition, since 1990, I have been serving as a consultant on the Wiccan religion and related forms of Nature religion for the Bureau of Prison chaplains and administrators in the US Department of Justice.
On May 9, 2005, the VA sent us a reply to our application for Pentacle addition. The Acting Director of MPS stated "We are in the process of revising our procedures and the criteria for evaluating requests to add new emblems of belief to our current listing. We will evaluate any such requests once the revised procedures and criteria are in place. We hope to have our revised procedures completed in the near future and will inform you as soon as they become available. At that time, if you wish to pursue a request to add an emblem of belief to the NCA listing, we will be pleased to provide you with full instructions on how to proceed." The letter concluded by saying that if I had any additional questions, I should contact them. The VA provided a name, phone number, and postal address.
After receiving this letter, I had questions I wanted the VA to answer. I followed the VA's instructions and called the number the VA staff had provided in the letter, but only got voice mail. I left a message asking for a call back, but never got one. In the months that followed, I tried calling again several times, but had the same experience. I was puzzled as to why a government office phone provided as a contact for information was not staffed during typical daytime hours of operation during a work week. I also wondered why VA staff did not return my phone calls.
More New Procedures
On October 5, 2005, the NCA adopted its next set of revised procedures for emblem of belief addition. Acting Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Richard A. Wannemacher, Jr. authorized the adoption of the new procedures in NCA Directive 3310 which rescinded the procedures adopted on May 9, 2001.
As with the two previous sets of procedures, these new procedures required the submission of a graphic depiction of the emblem and a description of its meaning. The 2005 revision of the procedures required an emblem addition request to be made by "a recognized leader of the organization." In addition, under these new procedures, much more detailed information had to be submitted in making the request, including a discussion of beliefs, teachings, worship services, holiday observances, and clergy. Another change was the addition of a requirement for an "immediate need." This meant that the only way to apply for the addition of an emblem to the NCA list was to attach the request to an application for a marker or headstone for a deceased veteran.
Circle Sanctuary Reapplies
In early November 2005, the VA sent letters to Wiccan churches that had applied for the addition of the Pentacle. The VA's letter to Circle Sanctuary and me was dated November 2. In mid-November, a Wiccan died who was a Korean War veteran and a member of our church for eighteen years. In mid-December, his grieving widow decided that she wanted to mark the cremains site with a VA-issued marker with the Pentacle on it. I helped her complete the memorial marker request for her husband's gravesite and then attached our materials for emblem addition which were required under the new procedures. I signed our request on January 6, 2006 and sent our 24-page packet off to the VA by overnight express mail.
Two other international Wiccan churches joined Circle Sanctuary's re-application with letters of support, rather than applying separately. Included was a letter from the Covenant of the Goddess (COG), signed by Rev. Kathryn Fuller, and a letter from the Sacred Well Congregation (SWC), signed by Dr. David Oringderff. Both of these churches have members who are veterans as well as members who are on active duty. SWC includes groups that meet at US military installations.
In our letter of reapplication, I asked the VA to expedite the processing of our request for the addition of the Pentacle to the NCA list. I mentioned that we were planning a memorial service for our Korean War veteran on May 4, 2006. I asked that the Pentacle be added to the list in sufficient time to have his memorial marker with a Pentacle produced, shipped, and installed at his cremains burial place in our church cemetery prior to this memorial service which I was conducting during our Beltane festival.
After mailing off Circle Sanctuary's application, I called the VA two days later. I learned that our application was not yet in the VA's system. I inquired about this and VA staff told me that there was a tremendous paperwork backlog and Circle Sanctuary's application might not be processed for two months or even longer. I learned that I could get our application into the VA's system faster by faxing it to the VA. We did this. However, this approach did not work well. When I called to make certain that all pages of our faxed application were received and were in the right order in the VA's system, I learned that this was not the case.
Then the VA staff told me to fax our application directly to the Memorial Programs Service office in Washington, DC. We did this. I called the next day and was glad that after this third try, both the memorial marker request and our Pentacle addition reapplication were received and were being processed by the VA. I continued to follow-up with phone calls to the VA on a weekly basis to track progress. Each time I called I was told that our application was under consideration, but the staff could not give me an estimate of how long it would take the VA to make a decision. VA staff members also refused to describe the sequence of steps in the approval process.
Roberta Stewart Joins the Quest
In February 2006, Roberta Stewart decided that she wanted a memorial plaque with a Pentacle on it for her late husband, Sgt. Patrick Stewart, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom on September 25, 2005. He and four other US soldiers died when Taliban terrorists shot down the Chinook helicopter they were flying. Sgt. Stewart and his friend, Chief Warrant Officer John Flynn, were the two soldiers from Nevada killed in that attack. Flynn was a Christian, and his memorial plaque with a Cross, his emblem of belief, was already on the Wall of Heroes at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley.
Sgt. Patrick Stewart was Wiccan as is his wife, Roberta. Roberta learned that the only way that she could have a plaque for her husband that included their emblem of belief was to fill out a request and provide materials and answers to the many questions the VA now required. When Roberta asked me for help by phone, she was relieved to learn that all she had to do was append her plaque request to Circle Sanctuary's reapplication. She did this.
I told Roberta that our application had been in the MPS office since early January but was still pending. Roberta wanted her request for her husband's plaque with the Pentacle expedited. She and I talked about possible approaches to make this happen. I asked her if she was willing to make her request public and if she was willing to ask the help of elected officials. She said, "Yes." We agreed to work together to accomplish this goal.
Sgt. Patrick Stewart had served as a chief flight engineer on a CH47 helicopter for the Aviation division of the Army National Guard. On occasion, he was part of the flight crew that provided air transportation for government officials, including Senator Reid and the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Roberta asked for and received help from Senator Reid's office. A staff member from Senator Reid's Reno, Nevada office contacted the VA on February 22 and asked for the expediting of the approval of Circle Sanctuary's Pentacle application. A week later, Circle Sanctuary's application moved out of the Memorial Programs Service office, which was the first level of review. ATC's application also moved forward. Finally, after 8 years and 7 months, Pentacle applications cleared the first level of review! The VA staff told Senator Reid's office that the VA would make a decision in two to four weeks.
In late February, Nevada journalist Sean Whaley learned about the Pentacle petition drive originating and circulating among US troops in Afghanistan who had served with Sgt. Stewart. In this petition, they asked that Sgt. Stewart's religious emblem be included on his memorial plaque. Whaley interviewed Roberta and me about this Quest, and his article was published in print and on-line on March 2 in the Las Vegas Journal Review, a Nevada daily newspaper. Later, his article was picked by the Associated Press and received widespread distribution among media sources. This coverage led to additional journalists reporting on this story.
Representative Jim Gibbons, the US Congressman representing the Nevada district that includes the home of the Stewart, was asked by a reporter about this issue in early March and went on record as supporting the addition of the Pentacle to the NCA list. Roberta began working with staff in his office. Congressman Gibbons and his staff had a series of communications with the head of the NCA, the Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs William Tuerk, in an effort to get Circle Sanctuary's Pentacle application approved so that the Pentacle could be included on Sgt. Stewart's plaque. Congressman Gibbons and his staff originally had hoped to get the Pentacle approved before the troops who served with Sgt. Patrick Stewart had their homecoming on March 18, 2006. Congressman Gibbons and his staff are continuing to work to have Pentacle addition approval and inclusion on Sgt. Stewart's plaque expeditiously achieved.
Journey to Washington, DC
After the VA failed to approve the addition of the Pentacle by mid-March, I decided to go to Washington, DC and meet with Under Secretary Tuerk myself. I talked with his staff and arranged an appointment. In the past, other attempts by Wiccan leaders to meet face-to-face with VA staff on this matter had been declined or ignored. I was glad that Under Secretary Tuerk agreed to meet with me. I hoped that if VA officials had some concerns or misconceptions about the Wiccan religion which had been delaying and preventing approval, I might dispel these through direct communication and thus clear the way for the addition of the Pentacle to the NCA list.
On March 29, I met at the VA Headquarters with Under Secretary William Tuerk and two of his subordinates, Steve Muro, NCA's Director of the Office of Field Programs, and Lindee Lenox, NCA's Acting Director of Memorial Programs Service. I told them that our "immediate need" for the Pentacle to be added to the NCA list was now threefold. Circle Sanctuary had three widows from three states wanting markers to mark the graves and memories of their deceased veteran husbands, which included a Korean War veteran from Utah, a Vietnam War era veteran from Ohio, and Sgt. Patrick Stewart from Nevada, who was a veteran of Desert Storm as well as Operation Enduring Freedom.
Under Secretary Tuerk told me that our widows could receive interim markers without the Pentacle included. I told him that all three widows told me that they did not want this and refused this offer. I also spoke about the need to have the Pentacle included on at least three headstones of Wiccans buried at Arlington National Cemetery, including on the "interim" headstone of Abe Kooiman, which had been without the Pentacle for nearly three years.
Under Secretary Tuerk would not give me a timeline for Pentacle addition approval . He also refused to describe the steps in the VA's emblem addition process. He indicated that the decision was beyond his ability to make alone, and that it needed the approval of additional, yet unspecified, others.
I left that meeting with a sense that our application was not being treated procedurally the same as applications made by other groups for emblem of belief additions approved in 2003 and 2004. Their VA approval memos only required signatures of two officials - that of the Director of MPS and that of the head of the NCA. Apparently many more officials were now involved in considering and approving Circle Sanctuary's emblem of belief addition application. It seemed that both Circle Sanctuary's and ATC's Pentacle applications were stuck in another bureaucratic limbo.
Networking, Media, & Memorial Day
Roberta and I continued to be in touch with the media, with Congressional staff, and with other elected officials in order to increase public awareness and support for the Quest to get the Pentacle on the NCA list and on Sgt. Stewart's memorial plaque. Roberta gained the support of the Nevada governor and his staff as well as the state's top veterans affairs official. The media coverage that Roberta and I had continued to be positive and took many forms. A national television network (Fox) ran a story in March, National Public Radio aired a report in April, and many original and wire serve articles appeared in print and on the internet throughout the Spring and Summer.
As Memorial Day neared, Roberta and I stepped up our efforts to get the VA to approve the addition of the Pentacle to its NCA list. As follow-up to my March 29 meeting, I had an hour-long phone meeting with Under Secretary Tuerk in mid-April. He told me that the VA's General Counsel was investigating whether or not the new NCA emblem addition procedures adopted in October 2005 were adopted properly, and that he did not know how long this investigation would take, but it could take up to a year or longer. I continued to urge him to find a way to approve the Pentacle before Memorial Day so that Sgt. Stewart would be honored properly by having his plaque with the Pentacle produced and installed at the veterans cemetery in Fernley. However, the following day, VA Deputy Secretary Gordon Mansfield wrote me a letter telling me that although the VA was aware of my request for expediting this matter, it would not do so and would not commit to any type of timeframe for its process of consideration of our application.
When it became apparent that the VA had no plans to add the Pentacle to its NCA list any time soon, I then talked with the head of the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery to explore possible ways that some kind of temporary marker with a Pentacle could be present at the Wall of Heroes at the cemetery to honor Sgt. Patrick Stewart on Memorial Day itself. I suggested several ideas and he told me that he would look into this.
In May, plans were being made for Roberta to be a speaker at the annual Memorial Day Service at this veterans cemetery, which is located in her hometown. However, Roberta learned that she would not be permitted to speak because of the controversy about the VA and the Pentacle. When he learned that it was no longer possible for Roberta to speak, Chaplain William Chrystal, who had been doing the invocations and benedictions at that annual event for more than a decade, declined to be part of it. He and Roberta decided to organize an alternative Memorial Day Service. I assisted them with planning.
The Sgt. Patrick Stewart Freedom for All Faiths Memorial Service was held on Memorial Day, May 29, 2006 at a public park in Fernley, Nevada. More than 300 people attended, including the press. Speakers included Chaplain Chrystal, Roberta, me, and several Nevada political candidates, Republican and Democrat.. A flag that Sgt. Stewart had flown while deployed in Afghanistan was raised and lowered to half-mast at the start of the service, which also included bagpipe and bugle music. Following the service, Roberta, Chaplain Chrystal, and I, accompanied by others, went to the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery for our wreath laying ceremony. We placed a Pentacle wreath in honor of Sgt. Patrick Stewart next to the spot on the Wall of Heroes where his VA plaque with Pentacle is to go. We also placed a wreath honoring all veterans. At Roberta's request, I led a prayer to honor Sgt. Stewart and religious freedom. Sgt. Stewart's Memorial Day service and wreath placement ceremony received widespread media coverage -- press, television, radio, and the internet.
In June, Circle Sanctuary and its Lady Liberty League called on Wiccans and others to contact their US Senators & Representatives to inform them about the Quest and to ask for their help in getting the Pentacle added to the VA's NCA list. Although this Congressional letter writing campaign was focused from Flag Day (June 14) to Summer Solstice (June 21), it has continued since that time. Some members of Congress have written and spoken to VA officials about concerns about this issue as a result of letters from constituents.
Quest in Washington, DC
On July 3, Roberta and I flew to Washington, DC. We were among the speakers at a Religious Rights Rally on July 4th held a few blocks from the VA and the White House. On July 5, Roberta and I went to Capitol Hill. We met with attorneys and other staff of Americans United for Separation for Church and State (AU) at their headquarters. After this meeting, Roberta and I were interviewed for the evening news by WJLA, the ABC television affiliate in Washington, DC.
Roberta and I then went to the Hart Senate Office Building and met with a staff member in Senator Harry Reid's office. He accompanied us to our meeting across town at the VA headquarters with Under Secretary William Tuerk and two other VA officials, David K. Schettler, NCA's Director of Communications Management Service, and Charles K. Likel, Congressional Relations Officer of the VA's Congressional and Legislative Affairs office.
At this meeting, Under Secretary Tuerk told us that the VA's General Counsel found that the procedures adopted by the NCA in 2005 were not adopted correctly and new procedures needed to be drafted and approved. Under Secretary Tuerk would not give us a timeline for completion or details about the steps in this process. We asked him to approve the Pentacle under previous procedures, instead of waiting until the VA finished its new procedures revision and adoption process, which was likely to take at least six months or more. We asked him to take our proposal to the VA's General Counsel and to let us know whether or not this was possible.
The following day, Roberta and I did more media work. We were interviewed by Bob Franken for the American Morning news program of CNN television. Roberta and I also did a variety of radio and press interviews by phone.
The Quest Continues
Since returning to our homes following this trip to Washington, DC, Roberta and I have been in frequent communication with each other and with those who are helping us with strategic planning. We also have continued to do media interviews, both together and individually.
US Congresswoman Shelley Berkley of Las Vegas, Nevada and her staff have begun communicating with the VA about the Pentacle issue, and in her letter to VA officials in late July, she called on the VA to provide specifics about the new procedures approval process and about the timeline. On August 1, three members of Senator Reid's staff met with Under Secretary Tuerk to discuss the Pentacle issue and learn more about the VA's plans for again revising its procedures. Following that meeting, Under Secretary Tuerk called Roberta and told her that the VA General Counsel declined our proposal to have the Pentacle added now. He said that no decision could be made on the Pentacle until after the VA had finished drafting and adopting yet another set of procedures for emblem addition to the NCA list.
On August 1, Roberta and I finalized arrangements with Americans United for Separation of Church and State. AU is representing Circle Sanctuary and Roberta in this Quest to add the Pentacle to the NCA list. We are presently exploring legislative, administrative, and legal remedies.
Thanks to everyone who is supporting us and this Veteran Pentacle Quest!
Rev. Selena Fox
Senior Minister, Circle Sanctuary
PO Box 9, Barneveld, Wisconsin
Phone: (608) 924-2219
Fax: (608) 924-5961
This report was compiled from a variety of sources:
- Direct experience & communications with VA
- VA correspondence & memos via FOIA requests
- Communications with Roberta Stewart
- Communications from VA officials to Roberta Stewart and family
- Communications with Congressional staff
- Military Pagan Network documents & interviews
- Isis Invicta Mission documents & interviews
- Aquarian Tabernacle Church documents & interviews
- Correllian Nativist Church documents & interviews
- Covenant of the Goddess documents & interviews
- Sacred Well Congregation documents & interview
- Media communications
An earlier version of this report is published in the Fall 2006 issue of CIRCLE Magazine.