The Veterans Administration's
policy concerning grave markers
Jan Deanna O'Rourke's grave marker
Jan Deanna O'Rourke: "I am but one person, but as Americans we are
many, and we will not tolerate religious persecution in the United States of
America. Not in my City, Not in my State, And not in my Country!"
spoke these words at an Interfaith and Religious Freedom Day celebration in
2004. Less than a year later, she had died and was the victim of religious
intolerance by the Veterans Administration. They initially refused to issue a
headstone engraved with a pentacle, the symbol of her religion.
The Veterans' Administration (VA) will provide, upon application, a headstone
or marker for the unmarked grave of most deceased veterans. They will also
furnish a headstone or marker for installation in a cemetery "to commemorate
any veteran whose remains have not been recovered or identified, were buried at
sea, donated to science, or cremated and the remains scattered." 1
There are restrictions on eligibility. For example, veterans, --
including some who have committed criminal acts, or who have been found to be
gay or lesbian -- who receive a dishonorable discharge are refused a headstone
or marker. The discrimination against gays and lesbians is now part of the dustbin of history, after the ending of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell polilcy of the military during the fall of 2011.
Since 1996, Wiccans and others -- including the webmaster of this web site -- had been approaching
the VA asking that the Wiccan pentacle be added to their list of allowable
religious symbols. They stonewalled for over a decade. Finally, the VA was faced
with a lawsuit to force them to comply with the First Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution which requires that no government law or regulation infringe on the
separation of church and state. Rather than fight a
lawsuit that everyone knew they would lose, the VA caved in and authorized use
of the symbol in time for Memorial Day during 2007. 2
The VA website now includes the following entry in
its list of "Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government
Headstones and Markers." 3