ACLU Files Lawsuit Over Right to Choose Veterans' Religious Symbol on Headstone

September 29, 2006

Source: ACLU Press Release

On September 29, 2006 an ACLU Press Release reported, "The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit to protect the right of veterans and their families to choose religious symbols to engrave on headstones in federal cemeteries. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two churches and three individuals to compel the government to approve a long-pending application for use of a Wiccan symbol on the headstones of service members.

'The government has no business picking and choosing which personal religious beliefs may be expressed. All veterans, regardless of their religion, deserve to have their faith recognized on an equal basis,' said ACLU of Washington staff attorney Aaron Caplan.

The lawsuit was sparked by the failure of the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to take action on several applications to approve the pentacle of the Wiccan faith as an emblem of belief. The agency provides headstones free of charge to mark the graves of eligible veterans, upon application by a veteran or the next of kin of a deceased veteran. An emblem of belief is included on the headstone only if it is on the list of symbols approved by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

The NCA has approved 38 emblems of belief for veterans, encompassing a wide variety of religions. Headstones have been engraved with different forms of the Christian cross, the six-pointed Jewish star, the Muslim crescent, the nine-pointed Baha’i star, and symbols for atheists and secular humanists, among others.

Yet the agency has refused since the mid-1990s to act on requests by Wiccan families and clergy to approve use of the pentacle. In the meantime, the agency approved additional emblems of numerous other religions and belief systems as a matter of course, usually in a few months."