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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 November 2006, 10:31 GMT
US pagans fight grave symbol ban
The pentacle - a five-pointed encircled star - is an important Wicca spiritual symbol
The pentacle is an important Wicca spiritual symbol
Pagans in the US have filed a law suit against the government for the right to have their five-pointed symbol placed on gravestones in military cemeteries.

Widows of two Wiccan soldiers and two Wiccan congregations say the government is obstructing their constitutional right to freedom of religion.

About 1,800 people on active duty in the US armed services are Wiccan.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is reviewing the way it approves new emblems but has not spoken on the case.

Wicca, which originates in Europe, is inspired by ancient pre-Christian practices. Wiccans worship the Earth.

Wicca is recognised by the US military as an official religion but military veterans are not allowed to display the symbol on their graves.

Some 36 other religious symbols, including the Jewish star of David and the Buddhist wheel, are allowed.

BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott says some of these, such as Sufism Reoriented and another called Eckankar, are relatively obscure.

The lawsuit was filed by four plaintiffs:

  • Roberta Stewart, whose husband, Nevada National Guard Sgt Patrick Stewart, was killed in Afghanistan last year

  • Karen DePolito, whose husband, Jerome Birnbaum, is a Korean War veteran who died last year

  • Circle Sanctuary, a Wisconsin-based Wiccan church

  • Isis Invicta Military Mission, a California-based Wiccan and pagan congregation serving military personnel.

The lawsuit says the Veterans Affairs department has made "excuse after excuse" for more than nine years for not approving the symbol.

The legal challenge was filed in the US District Court in Madison and the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, DC.

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