Archives For Roberta 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.

 

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Update on the Kyrja Withers Story: On March 30th I reported that Florida Pagan and children’s author Kyrja Withers had her home shot at, the latest in a string of escalating incidents seemingly connected to her Pagan faith. Now, PNC-Florida and the New Port Richey Patch are both reporting that the attacks have not stopped, and that her home was recently the subject of a chemical bomb attack, which required Withers’ daughter to seek medical care after inhaling fumes from the home-made bottle-bombs.

Kyrja Withers (Photo: Tampa Bay Times)

Kyrja Withers (Photo: Tampa Bay Times)

“She said there was a young man in the driver’s seat and another in the front passenger seat with his body sticking out of the window. She said the driver was also coming out of the window. There was also a young man in the backseat. She says two bottles with fluid inside were thrown at the house from within the vehicle on its return alongside the home. One landed near a bush in the front yard of the house. She saw the bottle expand and tried to get away before it exploded. “Every time I close my eyes, I see the bottle expanding,” she said. She said she did not escape the fumes when the bottle burst. She told the New Port Richey police that both bottles exploded. The second bottle exploded so hard that it went flying across the street and into a neighbor’s yard.”

Police are still investigating these incidents, and no arrests have been made. The Lady Liberty League is currently working on providing Kyrja Withers with support, and ask that those who are interested in contributing suggestions of resources, ideas for strategies, and volunteering security consulting and other help” to send them an e-mail, or comment at the organization’s Facebook page.  A focus image has also been provided for those who want to do magical/prayer work for Kyrja and her family. We will update you here with further developments. May Kyrja and her family remain safe, and may these perpetrators be brought to justice. 

Hexenfest Happens This Saturday: The second annual Hexenfest, a celebration of mythic music and dance, is happening this Saturday, April 27th, at the Rhythmix Cultural Works in Alameda, California. Featured performers are  Arcane DimensionPandemonaeon, Morpheus RavennaAnaar, a Tombo Studio fashion show, and DJing by Skellington.

“Welcome to Hexenfest, a music and arts festival dedicated to myth, magic, folklore, fairytale, and the numenous.   We feature artists who are exploring the wild archetypal through their art; musicians, dancers, visual artists, and crafters who look to the realms of myth and dream and reflect their visions into our world. Hexenfest has a flair for the darkly exotic. Gothic, Pagan, and Tribal belly dance themes are featured prominently, evoking the forbidden forest more than than the enchanted wood. If you feel at home in dark fairytales, join us in the realm!”

I was honored to be involved in the first Hexenfest, and I think the event could be replicated by local communities who want to grow and support Pagan-made music, dance, fashion, and other arts. So if you’re in the area, why not consider dropping by in a show of solidarity? I can guarantee that a lot of excellent people will be there. Here’s the official Facebook event page. 

6th Anniversary of Veteran Pentacle Quest Victory: On April 23rd, 2007, a settlement was reached with the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs concerning the inclusion of the Wiccan Pentacle to the official VA list of Emblems of Belief. Nine years of bureaucratic stalling over this issue were endured, very likely due to the personal beliefs of former Texas governor, then-president, George W. Bush. While some have tried to gloss over this struggle, litigation and public pressure was necessary to move this issue forward, and open the door for more minority religions to have their symbols included. Now, on this 6th anniversary of the victory, Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, who was an instrumental part of the campaign, is hosting a special radio show this evening to share stories and remembrances.

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. 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.

“Celebrating 6th Anniversary of Veteran Pentacle Quest Victory Day with Roberta Stewart, others who helped make this happen. Tune in to special podcast tonight, 8-9pm CDT”

You can find the link to the show, here.  Roberta Stewart, widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, will be participating. You can read a history of this quest for inclusion, here. The Wild Hunt’s extensive coverage of the Veteran Pentacle Quest can be read, here. We give our thanks for those who fought to make sure individuals like Sgt. Patrick Stewart would be properly honored.

In Other Community News: 

 

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

In April of 2007 the Bush Administration agreed to a settlement that paved the way for approval of the Wiccan pentacle to be engraved on government-issued headstones and markers, bringing to an end a campaign that lasted a decade, one that saw casual anti-Pagan demagoguery morph into government policy. Nearly five years after that historic settlement, the number of grave markers with the pentacle emblem, according to iPad-formatted news magazine The Daily, has risen dramatically.

Photo by Alex Brandon (AP)

Photo by Alex Brandon (AP)

“Since its addition in 2007 to a list of recognized tombstone icons, the pentacle has begun popping up on grave markers at Arlington and other government cemeteries alongside crosses, Stars of David and Muslim crescents. “There’s been a large increase over the past few years,” Jeanet Ewing, co-founder of Northern Virginia Pagan Network, told The Daily. “We’re up to near 80 grave markers nationwide.” The symbol can be found on five Arlington headstones, including that of Army Staff Sgt. Thomas Huffard, a Vietnam veteran who died in 2009, and Army Spec. Charles Heinlein, who was killed in Iraq in 2007.”

While I’m very happy to see our Wiccan veterans properly honored, and glad that The Daily decided to shine a spotlight on this issue, I’m troubled by the comments made by Department of Veterans Affairs staff.

…the proposed new emblem must represent “the decedent’s religious affiliation or sincerely held religious belief system,” the Veterans Affairs’ website states. “It can’t just be someone making up a religion,” department spokeswoman Josephine Schuda told The Daily.  As for the inclusion of Wicca, which involves the worship of a horned god that critics have likened to a Satanic figure, as well as a more benign goddess figure, Schuda recalled that the decision entailed considerable debate. “Essentially, it boiled down to the issue of whether Wiccan beliefs constituted a religion,” Schuda said. “It took a little while, I’ll say that.”

With all due respect to Ms. Schuda, it wasn’t a matter of debate, it was a matter of litigation and intense public pressure that got the pentacle approved. For nine years the VA ignored filed requests, “lost” applications, punted, and stalled. The Pagan community marshaled every interfaith ally it could, and was met by continual stonewalling.  In that time, several other emblems were approved, while outright misinformation was given to Pagan applicants. It wasn’t until Roberta Stewart, widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, with the help of Americans United, took the government to court did things progress, and even then the VA tried to have the case dismissed, or delayed with the promise of policy changes.

Ultimately, it wasn’t internal “debate” that won Wiccan veterans the pentacle, it was the discovery of damning evidence by Americans United.

“Lawyers familiar with the case said that some documents suggested the VA had political motives for rejecting the pentacle … During his first campaign for president, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush told ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’ in 1999 that he was opposed to Wiccan soldiers practicing their faith at Fort Hood, Tex. ‘I don’t think witchcraft is a religion, and I wish the military would take another look at this and decide against it,’ he said. Lynn, of Americans United, said references to Bush’s remarks appeared in memos and e-mails within the VA. ‘One of the saddest things is to learn that this wasn’t just a bureaucratic nightmare, there was a certain amount of bigotry,’ he said. ‘The president’s wishes were interpreted at a pretty high level. . . . It became a political judgment, not a constitutional judgment.’”

In short, the “debate” over “whether Wiccan beliefs constituted a religion” really came down to the VA interpreting George W. Bush’s infamous “I don’t think witchcraft is a religion” comments as a directive. Faced with a courtroom showdown where this evidence would be presented, the VA agreed to settle. A settlement that was agreed on because it won us what we wanted in the first place, the approval of the pentacle as an emblem of faith. An emblem that now graces nearly 80 markers and headstones.

As the old saw goes: You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts. The VA’s approval of the Wiccan pentacle didn’t come about because of internal theological debate, it came about because Wiccans, Pagans, and their allies, fought hard for it. Litigation ended up being necessary, and it was only after litigation was filed that we saw any forward progress from the VA. Any other interpretation belittles the decade of activism, hard work, and struggle that occurred. Considering the fact that some emblems were approved in the space of two weeks during the ten years the Wiccan pentacle was being considered ,“It took a little while, I’ll say that,” may set a new standard for understatement. So never forget what it took to get us here, and lets hope that a FOIA request will someday unearth all those “debates” over the pentacle.

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!

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.

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 3, 2007 — 1 Comment

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

The Record takes a look at the spread of Santeria in the ranks of Major League Baseball, and interviews Chicago White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen about his public devotion to the Orisha.

“If you see my saints, you’ll be like ‘Golly, they’re ugly … They’ve got blood. They’ve got feathers. You go to the Catholic church, the (saints) have got real nice clothes. My religion, you see a lot of different things you never see.”

The article lists MLB players Los Angeles Angels pitcher Francisco Rodriguez, Florida Marlins third baseman Miguel Cabrera, and the White Sox’s pitcher Jose Contreras as active adherents to Santeria, while Cincinnati Reds shortstop Alex Gonzalez and Chicago Cubs infielder Ronny Cedeno have reportedly “experimented” with the faith. Sort of puts a whole new spin on post-game prayer doesn’t it?

Over at Get Religion, Terry Mattingly looks at the latest round of news stories in the Veteran Pentacle Quest (involving the President’s snub and subsequent apology to Roberta Stewart) and wonders where the conservative Christian religious groups and activists were during this fight over religious liberties?

“Did conservative religious groups take a stand on one side or the other in this case, or where they divided? I think many journalists would assume that conservative believers oppose the Wiccan case. I do not think that can be assumed, because many conservatives now realize that equal access means equal access and freedom of association means freedom of association.”

But as commenters on the post (including me) pointed out, many conservative Christians have an irrational reaction to religious liberty and freedom cases involving Pagans. One conservative Republican Pagan was given the cold shoulder every time he approached a popular conservative pundit, while a Wiccan Army veteran was told outright by the American Center for Law and Justice they they “don’t support Satanists”. Kind of hard to build coalitions for a common goal with people who want nothing to do with you.

For those keeping track of China’s recent move to ban unauthorized reincarnations (in order to lessen the influence of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile), the leaders of Tibetan Buddhism have issued a joint statement repudiating China’s attempt to control the “living buddhas”.

“The heads of all the religious schools of Tibetan Buddhism; the monks, nuns, mantra holders and other lay followers of the respective schools and the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration collectively issue this statement repudiating the so-called order no. 5 of China’s State Administration of Religious Affairs that it is against the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights and the PRC’s constitution; that it is against history and the aspiration of the broad masses of people who believe in Tibetan Buddhism. Furthermore, it is a new weapon employed by the Chinese government to undermine Tibetan Buddhism, and to insult and oppress the Tibetan people.”

Calls continue to either boycott, or use the Olympics to place pressure on China to respect the religious freedoms of the Tibetan people. Meanwhile tensions rise over what will happen once the current Dalai Lama passes on. Since the true Panchen Lama (the second-highest ranking lama) is being held by China, many believe that Ugyen Thinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa will rise to leadership during the Dalai Lama’s absence.

In a final note, the lottery win of Ellwood “Bunky” Bartlett continues to gain attention. Boing Boing opines: “Dude, talk about blessed be.” The SoMA Review wonders if some lottery hopefuls might consider a conversion: “Christians who pray for lucky lottery tickets but never win might consider switching over to Wicca.” But perhaps a truly fitting statement comes from a friend of Bunky’s, who opens a post on her friend’s win with: “And people say that Magick doesn’t work.”

That is all I have for now, have a good (Labor) day!

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.”