Since the US Department of Veterans Affairs relented on allowing the Pentacle symbol to be engraved on the graves of Pagan veterans, some Pagan organizations have gotten together to work towards getting two more symbols approved: the Thor’s Hammer (for Asatru), and the Awen (for Druidry). But will these attempts be any easier than before? A Harvard Crimson editorial analyzes the new post-settlement V.A. regulations and finds they still place an undue burden on believers.
“Although the VA has rectified this specific mistake, it is no closer to a more expansive definition of religious legitimacy. In January 2007, the VA proposed a new set of criteria to determine when it ought to recognize a new emblem of belief. The new criteria seeks to ensure that “there is an immediate need” for a new emblem, and that the belief system is a “genuine and non-frivolous group of religious opinions, doctrines and/or principles believed or accepted as true by a group of persons.” The VA has also established a new bureaucratic procedure for applying for new emblems of belief. Although the proposed definition wisely uses the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) definition of a religious institution as one of its many criteria, the new overall process is seriously flawed.”
The new restrictive criteria includes prohibiting active soldiers or veterans from petitioning on their own behalf, Constitutionally dodgey requests for “information about the structure” of the soldier’s religious organization (something the IRS doesn’t require), and prohibitions against “social, cultural, and ethnic” emblems (a fine line for any indigenous faith group). Joshua R. Stein’s editorial calls for a complete overhaul on the approval for emblems of belief.
“While it is laudable that the VA has accepted the Wiccan Pentacle and begun to examine their highly entrenched, anachronistic system, this single action is not enough. The system of emblems of belief – which places an undue, indeed unfair, emphasis on one’s religious identity – needs to be reevaluated entirely so that soldiers can be remembered in a way most appropriate to them.”
While I hope I’m wrong, I fear that needed reevaluation will only come in the wake of further lawsuits, very likely from a modern Pagan faith.