Archives For Patrick Stewart

In 2006 Roberta Stewart made headline news when she found herself at the epicenter of the Veteran Pentacle Quest. During that time she publicly stepped forward as the widow of a fallen soldier to speak out for religious equality under the law. In 2013 Roberta finds herself, once again, speaking out to the public and the media. However, now she has a different opponent – Gastroparesis.

roberta_stewart_2Many remember Roberta Stewart as the wife of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, who was killed in combat on September 25, 2005 when his Chinook helicopter was shot down over Afghanistan. As a Wiccan, she wanted a pentacle inscribed on her Wiccan husband’s grave marker. However, the pentacle was not one of the thirty-six symbols on the National Cemetery Administration’s (NCA) emblems of belief list. In February of 2006 she joined the Veteran Pentacle Quest – a nine year old, on-going campaign to have the pentacle added to that very list.

With the help of Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, Roberta added her own formal request to a collection of similar requests being sent directly to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. With that decision she had joined forces with many other concerned Pagan organizations, Churches and individuals across the country.

Shortly after Selena asked Roberta if she would consider making her story public. Roberta consented. As a result, the campaign began to gain greater momentum. Over the next few months, Roberta and Selena spoke to both Federal and State officials, attended religious freedom events and told their story to the local and national media.

2006 Pagan religious freedom rally at the September 11 memorial in Reno, Nevada. Pictured, left to right: Selena Fox, executive director of Lady Liberty League; Roberta Stewart, widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, first Wiccan killed in action in War on Terrorism in Afghanistan; and US Army Chaplain William Chrystal, Pastor Emeritus of First Congregational Church (UCC) of Reno, Nevada.

2006 Pagan religious freedom rally at the September 11 memorial in Reno, Nevada.

But publicity took its toll.  She and her family experienced violent backlash.  Her property was vandalized and her daughter was beaten and called a witch.

Additionally, Roberta was not permitted to speak at a local Nevada Memorial Day Service due to her involvement with the Quest. That didn’t stop her. With the press watching, she, Rev. Selena Fox and Army Chaplain William Crystal performed an alternate service at a public park near the Nevada Veterans Cemetery in Fernley. The service was attended by more than 300 people and many members of the press. They called it the “All Faiths Memorial Service.”

Over the next six months the Quest’s momentum continued to grow. Roberta and Selena visited Washington D.C. multiple times, continued talking to the media, and encouraged Pagan letter-writing campaigns.  Roberta remained in the public eye for much of this time. As a result, She garnered support from many people far and wide. Recently, she told a Reno Nevada TV station:

Through all of this…there were surprises among those who stood with [me] and those who did not. I couldn’t have done it without the support of people here in this state.

Former Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn was one of these supporters. He allowed the pentacle to be placed on Sgt Stewart’s plaque on the memorial wall at the Nevada Veteran’s cemetery.

Marker for Sgt. Patrick Stewart.

Marker for Sgt. Patrick Stewart.

However that wasn’t the end of Roberta’s story.  For her, the Quest was about religious equality for all service men and women – not just for her husband.  In the fall of 2006 American United for the Separation of Church and State filed two lawsuits against the VA on behalf of Roberta and Circle Sanctuary. Finally, after ten years of struggle, the VA conceded. On April 23, 2007, the pentacle was added to the list of emblems. On Memorial Day of that year, Sgt. Stewart’s marker was dedicated proudly displaying the symbol of his faith – the pentacle.

Sgt. Stewart Pentacle Marker

Beyond all the publicity and visible struggles, Roberta was also quietly fighting another adversary.  Prior to her husband’s death she began to experience the early warning signs of the serious stomach disorder Gastroparesis – a near paralysis or weakness of the Gastrointestinal system. The symptoms of which include nausea, vomiting, dehydration, malnutrition, bloating, abdominal pain, weight loss, lack of energy and more.

But it wasn’t until 2008, a year after the Quest had ended, that she was officially diagnosed with this incurable disease. Rev. Selena Fox remembers all those bouts of stomach problems that Roberta had during the Quest years. One occurred while they were preparing to speak at the Pagan Religious Freedom Rally near the VA offices on July 4, 2006.  At the time Selena and Roberta agreed to keep her personal health problems quiet in order to stay focused on the cause.

Doctors do not have a clear understanding of what causes the condition and have no direct way of treating it.  As a result, patients must try various methods in order to find one that will maintain a comfortable quality of life. Since being diagnosed five years ago, Roberta has visited the hospital monthly. In some cases she has had to stay as long as two or three weeks.To date she has tried surgery, various medications, TPN feeding, Gastro-Jejunal feeding tube, and other intravenous feeding methods.  Unfortunately none of these treatments have brought her any measurable comfort. She said:

I died two times when they attempted to put a GJ feeding tube….With the stomach bag, I was in the hospital for 4 weeks and every time they released me I had kidney failure.

robertaDespite all of that she remains positive.  She added, “I am hopeful that acupuncture, colon therapy, colon hydration, detoxification, kinesiology and natural herbs will help as all other methods have failed.”

In addition, Roberta has chosen once again, to share her struggle with the public in the hopes of helping others.  As with the Quest she has turned a very personal battle into an opportunity to raise public awareness. Long-time friend, Rev. Selena Fox said:

I am thankful for her courage, strength, and willingness to turn her life challenges into opportunities to increase public awareness, understanding, and support on important issues. Roberta and I hope that by her speaking out about Gastroparesis … [she will help] build public support for [more] research towards a cure.

Circle Sanctuary has set up a Life Appreciation Page. When news of her condition began to spread the many people whose lives she has touched tried to reach out to her directly.  However, she is unable to field the sheer number of emails and calls. If you would like to reach out to her with love, well-wishes, or words of support, you can do so through Circle Sanctuary’s Life Appreciation page.

Additionally, if you would like to help Roberta in her newest Quest, learn more about Gastroparesis. Help Roberta raise awareness about the debilitating disease that has now consumed so much her time and her energy.

 

Top Story: A local Nevada television station is reporting that Roberta Stewart, widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, had her truck vandalized. The Stewart’s were at the heart of a campaign to grant Wiccan soldiers the right to have the pentacle engraved on their military tombstone or marker after ten years of stonewalling by the VA. While the act is attributed to local vandals, the report does explore the possibility that the brick thrown at her truck was connected to anti-Pagan sentiment.

But there’s another more remote, but more disturbing possibility: Roberta Stewart’s very public dispute with the Veteran’s Administration following her husband’s death. Although the Army recognized Patrick Stewart’s religion, it took a lawsuit against the V-A and government intervention to get the Wiccan faith’s symbol, a pentacle, placed on his marker at the veterans cemetery in Fernley. She won that fight, but the marker was vandalized shortly after it was installed. Roberta has continued to be a vocal advocate for religious tolerance and slain soldiers’ families. It’s a stance that still stirs strong emotions in some. She still gets angry emails. She doubts her truck was targeted for that reason, but can’t help but wonder. “We still get things where people don’t believe that we have the right to practice religious freedom, so it could have. I can’t be the one to answer that, but i would hope not.”

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, who worked closely with Roberta Stewart during the Veteran Pentacle Campaign, issued the following statement on her official Facebook Pagan.

“Please send healing, strength, and protection to Roberta Stewart, the courageous Wiccan Afghanistan War Widow who was with me on the front-lines of the successful quest to the get US Department of Veterans Affairs to add the Pentacle to the list of emblems that can be included on the grave markers they issue to honor deceased veterans.”

While this vandalism is terrible, I do hope that it truly was random, as evidence suggests, and not motivated by religious hatred. My best wishes go out to Roberta Stewart, may she have all the strength and healing she needs, and may the perpetrators be caught.

In Other News:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Several folks have pointed out to me a photo from the May 3rd print edition of the Washington Post. It is a shot of Arlington National Cemetery headlining a section on the death of Osama bin Laden. It, perhaps inadvertently, makes very clear why the military, and all Americans, should take the needs and accommodation of modern Pagan faiths seriously.

“Look in the left foreground of the photo – you will see the Pentacle on VA marker for Wiccan soldier Charles Thomas Heinlein, Jr. at Arlington National Cemetery. He was killed in action in Iraq. His grave is in section 60, where many US soldiers killed in wars in Iraq & Afghanistan are buried & honored.”Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

When crude editorials mock Pagan faiths and our equal treatment in the military, when pseudo-historians and Christian pundits claim non-Christians shouldn’t even have constitutional protections, they are, in part, talking about Wiccan soldiers like Charles Thomas Heinlein, Jr. or Sgt. Patrick Stewart. Men who gave their lives in service to the United States. Modern Pagans of all persuasions are part of our everyday society, our fabric of life. We are your coworkers, teachers, friends, and family. When we are “othered,” it has ramifications beyond the editorial page, it leads to rights being delayed, parents risking the loss of their children, and an unspoken tiered system of  religious rights and freedoms being created. Pagans ask for no “special rights” just the equal treatment we are all supposed to enjoy in America, the freedoms and rights our Pagan military personnel served, suffered, and died for.

Today is the fifth anniversary of the death of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, who was killed along with four other US troops of “Mustang 22″ when their helicopter was shot down by enemy fire in Afghanistan. Sgt. Stewart was the first openly Pagan soldier to be killed in the line of duty, and his death is what ultimately led to Wiccan soldiers finally being granted the right to have the pentacle engraved on their military tombstone or marker after ten years of stonewalling by the VA.


Staff Sgt. Patrick Stewart.

In Nevada, a memorial is being erected in honor of Stewart and the Nevada Army Guard’s Mustang 22 crew.

“A Nevada Army Guard memorial is set to be dedicated Saturday. The permanent memorial will pay tribute to the Nevada Army Guard’s Mustang 22 crew and helicopter, which was the CH-47 Chinook helicopter that was shot down in Afghanistan on September 25, 2005. Five soldiers were killed in action: Chief Warrant Officer John Flynn, Warrant Officer Adrian Stump, Staff Sgt. Patrick Stewart, Staff Sgt. Tane Baum, and Sgt. Kenneth Ross. Flynn and Stewart were in the Nevada Army Guard.”

In addition, a special remembrance rite was performed today at Circle Sanctuary.

“A Remembrance Rite will be conducted by circle Sanctuary’s senior minister Rev. Selena Fox & Pagan veteran Al Rickey of the Order of the Pentacle & others at 9:15 am CDT on Saturday, September 25 at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve in Wisconsin at the start of this year’s Welcome Fall Festival. The rite will be held at Circle Cemetery at Sgt. Stewart’s grave marker, which was one of the first pentacle markers issued by the US Department of Veterans Affairs after it added the pentacle to its list of emblems of belief.

Circle Sanctuary invites others to join in honoring the service & sacrifice of the Mustang 22 Crew killed in action on September 25, 2005 by kindling a candle, ringing a bell, speaking their names, and/or honoring them in other ways: Chief Warrant Officer John Flynn, Warrant Officer Adrian Stump, Staff Sgt. Patrick Stewart, Staff Sgt. Tane Baum, Sgt. Kenneth Ross.”

Stewart’s sacrifice not only led to the Veteran Pentacle Quest victory, but helped spark a movement within our interconnected communities to expand on that victory and include other Pagan symbols on military headstones and markers, and to continue the fight for Pagan military chaplains. Let us honor Stewart’s sacrifice, and the sacrifice of all Pagan military personnel who choose to serve. I would also like to extend blessings to Patrick’s widow, Roberta Stewart, and their family and friends on this day. My blessings as well to all the veterans and civilians who work tirelessly to see that Pagan military personnel receive equal treatment and consideration, a struggle that continues today.

It looks like the negative backlash over the President’s “oversight” of not inviting Wiccan widow Roberta Stewart, but inviting her husband’s extended family to a private meeting, has resulted in an apology call from the President.

“Fernley resident Roberta Stewart, widow of Wiccan soldier Sgt. Patrick Stewart, received an apology from President Bush Thursday morning for not being invited to meet with him during a recent visit by the president to Reno. Stewart received a message from White House staff Thursday morning asking her to return a call from President Bush. After receiving the message, Stewart said she called the White House and was patched directly to the president. During a seven-minute phone conversation, the president extended his apologies for all Stewart’s grief over nearly two years since her husband Sgt. Patrick Stewart’s death in Afghanistan in September 2005. Bush asked Stewart to accept his apology for the oversight, she said. Bush said he admired Stewart hoped they would meet someday. He seemed truly sincere as he apologized, she said, accepting his apology. “I am happy that I was able to speak with him and hope that now I can truly move forward and close this chapter,” said Stewart.”

No word on if Stewart asked Bush why her husband was dishonored by his administration, as she said she would if able to meet the President. But still, it is nice to see George Bush do the right thing and apologize. If this private chat with a modern Pagan represents a new attitude towards modern Pagan political concerns remains to be seen.

ADDENDUM: American’s United has a press release out on the apology. When Stewart was asked if the Wiccan religion was touched on in their conversation, she replied that Bush said “he would not discriminate against someone because of their religion.” Let’s hope that statement holds true for Bush and his administration from now on.

It seems that our President isn’t one to forgive a political loss, or make nice with religious minorities, even if they are they are married to a soldier killed in the war on terror.

“When President Bush took time Tuesday to meet family members of some of the fallen soldiers from Northern Nevada, a woman whose husband made the ultimate sacrifice was notably absent. Roberta Stewart of Fernley, who lost her husband, Sgt. Patrick Stewart, when the helicopter he was in was shot down in Afghanistan in September 2005, said she was not invited to the meeting that followed Bush’s speech to the American Legion’s national convention in Reno. Other members of the Stewart family were invited to the brief, private meeting, including her husband’s parents and brother, as were family members of others who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

For those not up on current events in Pagandom, Roberta Stewart is the woman who successfully challenged the government on allowing the Pentacle on veteran’s gravestones and markers (after her husband’s grave marker was initially denied a requested Pentacle emblem). It seems that George “witchcraft isn’t a religion” Bush is petty enough to snub war-widows (while inviting the rest of the family) if they don’t meet his personal criteria of allegiance (or he just hates Wiccans that much), a behavior that Americans United director Rev. Barry W. Lynn called “shabby”.

“The president should issue an apology to Roberta Stewart … She stood courageously for religious freedom for all soldiers, and the president was wrong to treat her so shabbily … President Bush seems to be continuing a pattern of hostility toward the Wiccan faith … That’s an outrage.”

As for Stewart, she isn’t surprised at the snub, and guesses that Bush wanted to avoid criticism for his part in blocking approval of the Pentacle.

“I would have loved to have spoken to President Bush and ask him why he dishonored my husband. That’s probably why I wasn’t invited.”

I sincerely doubt that any apology will be forthcoming, Bush has made his distaste for Pagan religion and deserved criticism (even in private) quite clear. But this would be an excellent chance for any of the Presidential candidates (Republican or Democrat) to weigh in on this issue, and rise above such small-minded partisanship and religious bigotry. As for the Veteran Pentacle Quest, a coalition has formed to work on getting the Thor’s Hammer and Druid’s Awen approved next, and any military families involved in this campaign now know what behavior to expect from the Bush administration.

ADDENDUM: A Department of Defense official claims it was an “unfortunate oversight” and not an intended snub, but AU director Rev. Barry Lynn isn’t buying the excuse saying “so called oversights often cover up a multitude of sins.”