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On May 10th I reported that the Thor’s Hammer (aka Mjölnir) emblem was approved for veteran’s headstones and grave markers by the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs. Since then, more details have been slowly emerging as to how the approval came about. We know that the listing went up on May 2nd, and thanks to a statement sent to The Wild Hunt from the Guardian of The Northern Winds Hearth we now know the circumstances of the emblem’s approval.

Thor's Hammer Emblem.

Thor’s Hammer Emblem.

“Due to a number of inquires regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs approval of the Mjölnir – Hammer of Thor Emblem as one of the “Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers” I have decided to write the following statement to try and answer everyone’s questions. Please note, that at the request of the Departed’s Family, I am withholding the last name and location of the grave markers.

The departed’s name is Shane, he was an Odinist and a Sargent in the United States Marine Corp. He was a Loyal Brother and Comrade to me personally for many years here in Midgard and although not a member of the OR, he was close with members of The Northern Winds Hearth and joined us in Blot and Sumbel on many occasions. Shane had passed from Midgard in August of 2012. After his Bael and Burial Ceremonies were held, I discussed with his Mother about the gravestone marker Emblems and how the Mjölnir – Hammer of Thor Emblem was not on the approved list with the VA, even with the previous efforts made by others to get approved.

It was then that her quest began to submit a request to the VA to get the Mjölnir – Hammer of Thor Emblem approved. She had written a lengthy heart felt letter to the VA with the request for the approval so her son may have an Emblem of Faith representative of his Beliefs on his gravestone. At this time she also requested that her Husband Mark’s headstone also bear the same Emblem for he practiced and lived by the same core teachings and virtues of Odinism, as their Son did. The VA required that she submit: (1) A three-inch diameter digitized black and white representation; (2) Free of copyright or trademark restrictions, or authorized by the owner for use and publication on the list of publicly available emblems; and (3) Reproducible in a production-line environment in stone or bronze without loss of graphic quality. At that time I enlisted the assistance of Comrades within the OR who were more then willing to assist her with this request.

After the VA accepted the image that was provided the waiting game began. She had made countless phone calls and sent numerous e-mails regarding the status of the request. Finally after all of her tireless efforts she received a letter from the VA dated May 2, 2013 advising her of the approval and that both Shane and Mark’s headstones that currently do not have any Emblem of Faith on them, would be replaced with new headstones inscribed with the Mjölnir – Hammer of Thor Emblem. Although it is with sadness and a heavy heart that this came about, a great step forward has taken place for the Odinist and Asatru communities. From our loss a Great Victory has arisen that will positively affect us all for generations to come! Hail to the Fallen, Hail Shane and Mark! Hail to Shane’s Mother for Her Dedication and Perseverance! Hail to all of Our Service Men and Women! Past, Present, and Future!

FFF/HTR Haakon “Hawk” AOR Guardian of The Northern Winds Hearth, AOR”

I’d like to thank Hawk for sending us this information, so that we can know the story, and who we have to thank for this advance for all Pagan and Heathen veterans. In addition, several groups like The Troth, Lady Liberty League, and the Open Halls Project have also released statements on this victory. I think this statement from the Heathen group Hrafnar sums up the general sentiments well.

“Today, Hrafnar stands with heathens across the US in pride as the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs has approved the Thor’s Hammer as an emblem to put on the headstones of fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. The greater acceptance of our faith anywhere is a victory for all of us, regardless of whatever other differences we may have.

Today, Hrafnar also stands with heathens across the US in sorrow: such recognition can only be made after the death of one who has been sworn to that service. The death of one of us is a loss for us all, regardless of whatever other differences we may have.

Hail the fallen! Hail the heathens!”

As for the future, we now clearly know how future Pagan symbols will be approved. Susan Granquist of Irminsul Ættir and the Our Freedom Coalition sent me this reminder for all Pagan veterans and their families.

“We, as an organization, recommend that veterans make sure that they include their desire to have that particular symbol on their headstones in their wills, and to make sure that their legal representatives have documentation and authority to make sure it is placed on the headstone.”

So if you are a Pagan, Heathen, or polytheist, who has served, or is serving, in the US military, please make arrangements now so that your preferred religious symbol can be approved for your gravestone or marker. If you need help, reach out to organizations like the Lady Liberty League, or your preferred national Pagan organization, to make sure everything is in order. Let’s ensure that all our fallen receive their proper honor.

In 2007, after a decade-long struggle, Pagan and Wiccan organizations succeeded in getting the Pentacle approved for military veteran headstones and markers. After that victory, in July of 2007, a rally was held to start the push for two more symbols: the Druid Awen and the Heathen Thor’s Hammer. Two Heathen organizations, The Troth and the Asatru Folk Assembly, were represented at that rally, and from it a wider movement to get the Thor’s Hammer approved emerged. Now, after a six-year journey which included some inter-organizational tensions within the Heathen community and a U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs rule change, it appears the symbol has finally been approved.

Thor's Hammer Emblem.

Thor’s Hammer Emblem.

The updated emblems list is the only place where this addition is noted. There’s no media release, news story, or even blog post that I’ve been able to find about this development. So I have no way of knowing when, exactly, the official approval went through. I have sent a note to The Troth for an official statement on this victory.

The 2007 4th of July Pagan Religious Rights Rally in Washington DC featuring Wiccan, Druid, and Asatru leaders.

The 2007 4th of July Pagan Religious Rights Rally in Washington DC featuring Wiccan, Druid, and Asatru leaders. Photo: Witchvox

Until we find out more, here’s a relevant quote from Diana Paxson, an Elder in The Troth, written in the wake of the Pentacle Quest and the 2007 July 4th rally.

“America has always been noted for creativity, in religion as in all else. Each new faith, whether immigrant or homegrown, enriches our culture. Today, when Buddhist temples and Islamic mosques may be found in many parts of the U.S., one might wonder why the VA denied a Wiccan veteran the right to have a pentacle on his headstone for ten years, and the Army has still not hired a Pagan chaplain. Paganism does not seek to replace other religions, but Pagan perspectives can revitalize the ways in which we relate to our history, our ancestors, and especially, in this time of climate crisis, to the environment. Rather than resisting, America should welcome the Pagan contribution to our cultural diversity.”

For now, congratulations to all Heathens and Asatruar on this amazing victory! Forward to the Awen! If you or a loved one are a Heathen veteran and want the Thor’s Hammer for a headstone or marker, you can find ordering information at the VA website.

ADDENDUM: The Troth has released the following statement.

“To our knowledge, current procedure to add an emblem of faith to a military headstone requires that the next of kin for a deceased Veteran request it. Josh Heath, of the Open Halls Project, has requested information in writing from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, but at this time we do not know who the Heathen service member was. In Heathen tradition, we greatly honor our slain warriors and offer Blóts and Fainings to them as the Einherjar, those warriors collected by Odin and Freya to take to their halls in Asgard. We are ever grateful to this fallen service member, both for their sacrifice to our country and for requesting Mjöllnir, or the Thor’s Hammer, for their headstone. We solemnly anticipate the time we can honor this newest of the Einherjar by name.”

For those who have attended a military funeral in the United States, or even watched one on television, you know there’s certain traditional ceremonial actions taken. The folding and presentation of the flag, the firing of a 3-volley salute, and the playing of Taps are all standard. In addition to these standard elements, there are several volunteer support and advocacy groups who often provide additional services to the family of the bereaved. Three of those organizations, The National Memorial Ladies, The American Legion, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars are all now embroiled in a controversy raging in Texas over what kinds of religious speech are allowed, without permission, at military funerals. Local branches of those organizations, along with a local pastor, are currently litigating against Department of Veteran’s Affairs officials at the Houston National Cemetery for allegedly “banning” mention of God and Jesus at military services.

Pagan headstone at Arlington National Cemetery.

The lawsuit filed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars District 4, the American Legion Post 586 and the National Memorial Ladies says VA officials barred prayer and religious speech in burials at the Houston cemetery unless families submit a specific prayer or message in writing to the cemetery’s director. The lawsuit also accuses VA officials of not allowing them to use religious words such as “God” or “Jesus.” […]  Fred Hinrichs, one of the attorneys for the VA, denied there was religious discrimination or limits on people saying “God” or “Jesus” at soldiers’ funerals in Houston or anywhere around the country. “The VA wants to do what the family wants,” he said. “If the family wants a (religious) recitation read, they provide it for somebody to read it.”

The case is being represented by the conservative Christian Liberty Institute, who have set up a special advocacy website called “Don’t Tear Us Down” that accuses “Obama administration-backed officials” of making it so that “Jesus is not welcome at gravesides.” These accusations are being repeated by Texas politicians, who are demanding a probe into the allegations.

“The Obama administration continues to try to prevent the word ‘God’ from being used at the funerals of our heroes,” said. Rep. John Culberson […] “It’s unacceptable and I’m going to put a stop to it as fast as humanly possible,” Culberson told Fox News Radio.

However, this case of government trampling the rights of Christians takes on a different hue once you ask veterans and soldiers who aren’t Christian about the situation. Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, says that what’s really happening is that these groups are “promoting special Christian privilege in government activities.”

“Imagine you are at a funeral for a fallen veteran, possibly your husband or wife or uncle, and cemetery volunteers begin publicly praying to their god despite the fact that your family doesn’t share their beliefs. […] The nation remembers Richard Tillman, who jumped on stage to stand up for his brother Pat Tillman’s wishes.  The Veterans Affairs Cemetery Administration protects the family when it restricts the religious speech of volunteers, and volunteers can opt out of funerals where the family has not requested a religious service consistent with the religious interests of the volunteer.  Volunteers are given access to funerals to support the family, not to promote personal religious beliefs.”

In another editorial atheist and soldier Kathleen Johnson notes that “success” by these politicians and advocacy organizations could mean “that several Christian groups would have a central part in the funerals of potentially every military veteran. Atheist, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim veterans being buried in Texas: this means you!”

My funeral will not be religious. Do I not deserve respect? Does the Constitution I fought for not deserve respect? Nothing is anti-religious about this policy. You are actually anti-consent and anti-permission slip. But that wont sell, will it?

Alex DiBranco at Alternet draws parallels between tactics in this curent fight and the “War on Christmas” that’s resurrected every Winter by the usual collection of culture warriors. These activists, in DiBranco’s view, are “selling it as discrimination against them and infringement on their religious rights, without any consideration for non-Christian beliefs.”

“Christian groups that want to push a religious agenda have figured out that an effective way to do so is by pretending to be the victim and heading off non-Christians’ complaints of discrimination by capturing that narrative first. And as American Atheist VP Kathleen Johnson indicated — this works. Once people buy into the narrative and feel the knee-jerk reaction that Christians are being wronged, it makes it more difficult to bring them around to recognizing the true victims. It’s a topsy-turvy situation — and a testament to the Religious Rights’ prowess at narrative manipulation — when the strangers imposing unwanted religious ceremonies succeed in presenting themselves as the wronged party.”

It all comes down, as Jason Torpy noted, to Christian privilege. When Christianity, or even ceremonial Deism, isn’t the default, it is seen as an infringement of rights, or oppression and discrimination against Christians. This situation all but forces non-Christians of all stripes to make sure they opt-out of this default, and even then they may not get what they want. Where are these bold defenders of religious liberty when military Pagans, who have served and died for this country, want to have their sacrifices properly honored? Instead of fighting to see that all religious and philosophical views held by military personnel and their families are protected and acknowledged, they mock and demean the needs of non-Christians who serve. By fighting to preserve a Christian “default” these groups are inflicting the very hurt they claim is to too much for any Christian family to bear, to make their religious preferences known. Our thanks should go out to the VA for working to protect “veterans’ families’ rights to pray however they choose at our national cemeteries,” and this campaign should be seen for what it is, a move to enshrine a certain kind of religiosity at military services whether asked for or not.

A controversy is brewing in King, North Carolina over the flying of a Christian flag at the city’s community veterans memorial. Amid protests and threats of litigation, the city council reached what they thought would be an acceptable compromise solution.

“The King City Council approved a policy Monday night that eventually would allow a Christian flag to fly again at a memorial at the city’s Central Park as a part of a limited public display of religious flags recognized by the U.S. military. Members of the Army Chaplain Corps wear four symbols on their uniforms — the Christian cross, the Jewish tablets and Star of David, the Buddhist dharma-chakra and the Muslim crescent, said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a spokesman for the U.S. Army. There are also 41 religious symbols that can be placed on grave markers at Arlington National Cemetery. The city’s new policy will lay out which flags and symbols would be displayed at the memorial.”

But proponents of the Christian flag, formed into the newly-christened “King Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Foundation”, are threatening a lawsuit should the wrong kind of flags be allowed to fly.

Many of the foundation’s members are concerned that the city may allow religious flags such as the Muslim Crescent and Star flag, the satanic flag and Wiccan flag, all of which are recognized by the U.S. military, to be flown at the memorial, James said. “There is room for expansion for this memorial,” James said. “No one has asked for another flag to be put up there. But someone asked for our flag to be taken down.”

A local television station’s report on the matter is even more blunt.

“The question we’re raising now is the possibility of having say, the Wiccan flag flown or the Satanic flag flown, which are recognized by the U.S. military — or a Muslim flag flown over a U.S. veterans memorial,” group leader Stephen James said.

First, if they are only going to fly approved VA emblems of faith, then they wouldn’t have to worry about a “Satanic flag”, but yes, Islam and Wicca both have emblems approved by the Veterans Administration. In fact Wiccan, Pagan, and Muslim military personnel have all died in the line of duty for the United States, something that doesn’t seem to matter all that much to the Christian flag proponents. It seems to be all or nothing for them.

“The complaint would be filed with the N.C. Office of Administrative Hearings only if a majority of people attending a public meeting at 6 p.m. Nov. 22 about the proposal objected to it, said Stephen James of King, an organizer of King Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Foundation. The group was started Monday night by about 25 people. “But we will have that option (filing the complaint) ready if we need it,” he said.”

Further, as pointed out by Americans United, local Christians are already scheming ways to make sure no faith other than Christianity gets a turn under the compromise agreement. A public meeting is scheduled on November 22nd to lay out the details of the compromise, but I can’t see this going anywhere except into the courts. If Americans United feels that the policy is too restrictive they’ll sue, and if the policy is too open the King Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Foundation will sue. That the mere possibility that Pagan (or Muslim) military personnel might be honored in King, North Carolina would trigger a lawsuit shames every veteran who fought or died for our country’s religious freedom. This is all about Christian triumphalism, and very little to do with the men and women we’re supposed to be honoring tomorrow on Veteran’s Day.

Today is Veterans Day in America, a day when military veterans are honored for their service to our country. In addition to acknowledging the sacrifices and service given by our own co-religionists in years past, and the battles to see them properly honored, it is also an excellent time to look to the Pagan soldiers currently serving at home and overseas. On this Veterans Day Circle Sanctuary is kicking off its annual Operation Circle Care project to send Pagan-themed care packages to Pagan soldiers serving in war zones. This year, due to the horrible tragedy at Fort Hood, they are including the over 150 Pagan and Wiccan soldiers and their families living and serving there as well.

“Operation Circle Care is currently gearing up to collect and send gift packages for Yule for Pagan troops for the third year in a row. This year, we will be including in our program gifts for over 150 Pagan and Wiccan soldiers and their families at Fort Hood, Texas in addition to deployed soldiers serving in warzones.”

You can find a list of needed items, contact information, and how to submit the name of a Pagan soldier serving oversees at the Operation Circle Care web site. They welcome “gently used” Pagan books, so this is a great way to do a good deed and clean out your bookshelves for those new acquisitions. So as you honor those who served this year, take the time to also think ahead to those currently serving, and how we can let them know that our communities care about them.

If one fact refutes the idea that modern Paganism in America is merely some sort of 1960s holdover full of pacifists, rebellious teens, and aging baby-boomers (though we have plenty of all three) it is that so many of our number have been, and are, active members of our military services. There are active military (and military family) Pagan groups from Aberdeen, Washington to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. There has been a Military Pagan Network since 1992, and they are joined by Circle Sanctuary’s robust military ministries, and a nascent Pagan Veterans group. So today, Memorial Day, isn’t just a day for those Christian soldiers who marched off to war, but for their Pagan brothers and sisters-in-arms who marched with them. It is a day to not only honor our coreligionists who fell in the line of duty, but to continue to work towards seeing that they are properly respected and honored in death, and given the support they need in life.

We here at The Wild Hunt honor those who gave their lives, and salute those who have served and are serving. May your gods and goddesses watch over and protect you. I leave you now with some thoughts from other Pagans on this day.

“The right for Pagans soldiers and veterans to have the pentacle inscribed on their headstones and memorials was one fought for very hard by Pagan communities throughout the country over the course of several years. Instigated by Veterans’ Affairs refusal to grant the late Sgt. Patrick Stewart a pentacle on his grave marker after he was shot down in Afghanistan, his widow, Roberta Stewart, and Circle Sanctuary’s Lady Liberty League spearheaded an anti-discrimination action against the VA. Pagan communities nationwide joined the fight, and this issue was the formative one that brought together the Upper Midwest Pagan Alliance (UMPA) here in the Twin Cities. UMPA organized a a protest action in in February 2007 in a freezing cold blizzard on the St. Paul Capitol steps at the same time other communities held marches and rallies in support  …  It has been a bittersweet victory; celebrating a hard-won right also brings with it the acknowledgment of the growing number of Pagan military folks and the sacrifices that they are making in order for this and other rights to be upheld. UMPA is continuing to send care packages of religious reading and supplies as well as maintaining correspondences with Pagan soldiers who are still fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.”Murphy Pizza, Minneapolis Pagan Examiner

“I will be going to the Lafayette war memorial on Monday, because people are still killed in war. We will place a pentacle for Sgt. Jason Schumann, enlisted at 17 and dead at 23, father and husband. We shall also recall Sgt. Joseph Ford, a Pagan member of Nova Roma who died in Iraq last May. Memorial Day, for me, is also a day to remember the 100,000 estimated civilians killed in Iraq since 2003, the more than 2,000 dead in Afghanistan just last year, the close to 5,000 US soldiers dead in Iraq and Afghanistan and the 30,000 wounded, and countless others with psychological and emotional distress.”T. Thorn Coyle, Peacock Dreams

“In September of last year I posted about the Order of the Pentacle, of which I am a very proud member. This Memorial Day I will have the Honor and Privilege of representing the Order in a ritual in remembrance of our fallen soldiers. This Memorial Day, Monday May 25th the Pagan Alliance and the Order of the Pentacle will assemble at the War Memorial near the Lafayette BART station we will remember our Pagan Brothers and Sisters who who gave their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will dedicate a new Pentacle for Sergeant Jason A. Schumann of Hawley, Minnesota. Sgt. Schumann was killed by an Improvised Explosive Devise in Ad Diwaniyah, Iraq. I myself have survived several trips through Diwaniyah, and will proudly carry his Pentacle.”Joseph Merlin Nichter, WitchDoctorJoe’s RattleBone

“My monument to the cost of the recent wars will be adorned with flowers and a paper red poppy tomorrow.  And today, I will walk through the beauty of early summer in the Nor’west, thinking of eyes that cannot see it and holding each image in trust for them.  Oh, that we would be wiser and more careful of lives that stand in harm’s way at the order of others!”Labrys, Walk of the Fallen

Blessings to you this Memorial Day.

This past year has been one of blessings and setbacks for Pagans serving in the military. After years of struggle the government relented under legal pressure and made the Wiccan Pentacle an approved emblem of faith. This allowed Pagan veterans to have the symbol inscribed on their grave markers or tomb stones.

But this victory can seem isolated in a military culture that can often have deep prejudices and hostility towards religious outsiders. This has led to incidents of religiously motivated discrimination and even threats of violence.

“Master Sgt. Kathleen Johnson, 40, a career soldier from north Florida who enlisted in 1985, said many soldiers do worry about invisible things and pressure others to do the same … Johnson said she has been threatened with failing a mandatory course if she didn’t bow her head during prayer. One military chaplain bragged to her about how he had stalled some Wiccan soldiers when they asked for a place to gather until they finally just gave up.”

While we won a victory with the Veteran Pentacle Campaign, we also lost in our best attempt so far to have a Pagan chaplain approved. The candidate, who was ideal by military standards, was forced out thanks to the leaking of personal information and the judicious use of military “catch-22s”.

“When Larsen came along last spring, Sacred Well’s leaders thought they finally had someone the military could not possibly reject: a physically fit 6-foot-4 clergyman originally ordained as a Southern Baptist minister, who holds a master’s degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Moreover, Larsen had spent 10 years as an officer in the National Guard, finished near the top of his class in chaplain’s training and was already serving as a chaplain in Iraq. But Oringderff said that his group, like Larsen, underestimated the institutional resistance. “Each time we advance to a scoring position, they change the rules,” he said.”

As we seek to fully honor Pagan co-religionists who have served in our country’s military, we continue to face an uphill struggle. The military bureaucracy can be hostile to our decentralized notions of religion, and some Christian organizations are trying to establish a permanent place of power and influence within the theoretically secular military.

The good news is that modern Pagans, emboldened by the success with the Pentacle issue, are forming larger coalitions to work towards fully equal acknowledgment and treatment within the military. The coming struggles won’t necessarily be easy, but if modern Pagans choose to be involved in our military forces then they should be honored equally and given the same benefits, options, and treatment as any Christian soldier. So honor the Pagans who served our country this Veterans Day, and know that their struggles for acceptance and equal treatment are not only for them, but for all Pagans who believe that our government shouldn’t play favorites when it comes to faith.

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.

While I’m pleased that victory has finally been accomplished in the Veteran Pentacle Quest, I was somewhat disappointed that the issue didn’t go to court. Why? Because now we’ll never have direct proof of anti-Wiccan/Pagan bias by VA officials. Before a trial begins a process of “discovery” happens in which both parties hand over (or are forced to hand over) documents and materials relevant to the case. Before the discovery process happened in this case the VA tried a stalling tactic.

“The VA argued in a motion filed Jan. 19 with the U.S. District Court in Madison that the lawsuit should be put on hold until after the department finalized its new rules related to accepting new grave marker symbols. That process could take up to 12 months but the VA would make a decision on the Wiccan request within a month after the process ended, the government’s motion said. The Wiccans’ attorney objected, arguing that nothing commits the VA to finalize its rules within that time frame, or take up the Wiccan request at all.”

Luckily the judge sided with the plaintiffs and a trial date was set for June 29th 2007. The discovery phase moved forward. It was during this point that Americans United allegedly came across some damning evidence.

“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.'”

Pagan academic Chas Clifton echoes these claims at this blog.

“From what I heard last November from the spouse of one of the lawyers involved, Americans United pretty well had the VA nailed for violating their own regulations and were counting on the potential embarrassment of a court trial to scare the VA into doing the right thing. It looks like that legal strategy worked.”

But we will never get hard proof thanks to the terms of the settlement.

“The settlement stipulates, however, that the plaintiffs must not keep or disclose any documents handed over by the government during the discovery phase of the lawsuit.”

Now the VA can claim the moral high ground by stating they settled “in the interest of the families involved”, and to save the taxpayer’s money. But if it was in the interest of “families involved” it certainly is a sea-change from the past nine years of struggles against the stonewalling tactics of the government agency. There is an illusion that our military is purely “secular”, and while that may be true to a point, it doesn’t acknowledge the very real persecutions and setbacks imposed upon openly Pagan soldiers by an overwhelmingly Christian (and conservative) chaplaincy and command structure.

So in my mind this victory is a bit bittersweet. I wish we could have gone farther in this case and gotten documents and testimony into the public records. I certainly don’t blame AU, Circle Sanctuary, and the other plaintiffs for taking the settlement, it was the promise of a sure victory in a very long struggle. But I fear that government agencies will continue to use Bush’s anti-Pagan comments as unwritten policy, an excuse to disenfranchise minority religions. As for the VA, one wonders what will happen when Asatru organizations start applying for a gravestone symbol.

Getting an advanced college degree must be good for something, just look at how Mary Zeiss Stange, professor of women’s studies and religion at Skidmore College, and a contributer to USA Today managed to tie the Christmas Wars and two Pagan-related stories into one editorial! It seems to be yet another rote editorial on the “controversy” over stores saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” until it becomes all about Paganism.

“Gone are the days when folks who worried about rampant materialism cautioned that it was time to “put Christ back into Christmas.” Now it’s time to put Christ back into Kmart. And so, as Wal-Mart spokeswoman Marisa Bluestone has bravely proclaimed, “This year, we’re not afraid to say ‘Merry Christmas.'”…Of course, if you are a Jew celebrating Hanukkah, or a Muslim marking Eid al-Fitr, or a neo-pagan Wiccan for whom the Winter Solstice (Dec. 21) is a major observance, you probably had appreciated the more inclusive acknowledgment that the end of the year is a festive time for you, too. Indeed, particularly if you are Wiccan, the matter of being un-included this holiday season must especially sting. A group of Wiccan families is suing the Department of Veterans Affairs for the right to bury their fallen heroes in military cemeteries in graves marked with a pentacle, the five-pointed star that symbolizes their religion, much as a cross does Christianity or a Star of David, Judaism.”

Did you see that? She managed to dis crass consumerism tainting the Christian holiday, remind people that non-Christians really do live and work in America, and then point out how modern Pagans are getting metaphorical coal in their stockings courtesy of the Veteran’s Administration. Strange tops off this editorial concoction with the “cherry” of ancient pagan elements still present in modern Christmas celebrations.

“For Christmas is, in its origins and its symbolism, perhaps the most pagan-inspired of all Christian holidays. Its dating derives from the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, which was determined by the winter solstice, that astronomical point in the year after which the periods of sunlight on Earth lengthen…These pagan-derived symbols and customs are precisely the elements of Christmas that Christian activists are pressing to preserve and promote, in venues such as Target and Macy’s.”

How to close such a editorial? Why with the hope for peace (and justice) on earth and goodwill towards mankind (and womankind) of course.

“…nothing could be more in keeping with the “Christmas spirit” than to embrace and celebrate religious diversity. And nothing could be truer to the spirit of the First Amendment than to honor American war dead as they and their loved ones would wish. No single group of self-proclaimed Christians holds a premium on the meaning of this magical season. And no government agency should decide what “qualifies” as an appropriate religious symbol. And so, no offense intended, but season’s greetings.”

That is how you write an editorial on subject(s) that have been covered to death and keep it fresh. Pagan editorialists take note. Oh, and season’s greetings.