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Veterans Administration's policy concerning grave markers

VA's religious discrimination

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Religious discrimination by the VA:

Photographs of some standard government headstones and markers, in the form of an upright marble or granite headstone, bronze niche marker, flat bronze marker, and granite or marble marker are shown on the VA web site. 1 The four examples shown there all include include "emblems of belief (religious symbols). Two are Christian, one Jewish and one appears to be Buddhist. Also on that website is a list of all of the approved symbols and the note:

"No graphics (logos, symbols, etc.) are permitted on Government-furnished headstones or markers other than the approved emblems of belief, the Civil War Union Shield, the Civil War Confederate Southern Cross of Honor, and the Medal of Honor insignias."

VA form 40-1330 states that certain optional items, which "may be inscribed at Government expense," may include "an authorized emblem reflective of one's belief." Section 11: "Desired Religious Emblem" gives the applicant five options:

bullet No symbol.
bullet 1. Latin Cross - Christian; generic.
bullet 2. Wheel of Righteousness - Buddhist.
bullet 3. Star of David - Jewish.
bullet Other: Shown on the back of the form are:
bullet 4. Presbyterian cross.
bullet 5. Russian Orthodox cross.
bullet 6. Lutheran cross.
bullet 7. Episcopal cross.
bullet 8. Flaming chalice: Unitarian Universalist.
bullet 9. United Methodist Church cross.
bullet 10. Aaronic Order Church.
bullet 11. Latter-day Saints: Angel Moroni with horn.
bullet 12. Native American Church of America: Teepee with three feathers.
bullet 13. Serbian Orthodox: cross.
bullet 14. Greek Cross: similar to the Red Cross.
bullet 15. Baha'i: 9 pointed star.
bullet 16. Atheist: A stylized symbol of an atom with the letter A in the center.
bullet 17. Islam: A crescent and star.
bullet 18. Hindu symbol.
bullet 19. Konko-Kyo faith.
bullet 20. Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now called the Community of Christ): A child between a lion and lamb.
bullet 21. Sufism reoriented symbol.
bullet 22. Tenrikyo church symbol.
bullet 23. Seicho-no-ie symbol.
bullet 24. The Church of World Messianity symbol.
bullet 25. United Church of Religious Science symbol.
bullet 26. Christian Reformed Church: Cross and triangle.
bullet 27. United Moravian Church: Lamb carrying flag.
bullet 28. Eckankar: Stylized letters "EK"
bullet 29: Christian church - generic: A cup.
bullet 30: Christian & Missionary Alliance: a cross, chalice, crown and pitcher
bullet 31: United Church of Christ: a crown, cross and world symbol
bullet 32: Humanism: a stylized image of a human.
bullet 33: Presbyterian Church, USA: A flaming cross
bullet 34: Ixumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii: A hexagon surrounding a symbol
bullet 35: Soks Gakkai International - USA: A complex symbol
bullet 36: Sikh: The Khanda symbol; three swords and a rink
bullet Listed separately because of copyright restrictions:
bullet United Church of Christ.
bullet Christian Science: cross and crown.
bullet Islam: Five pointed star. 2

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In 1991, the Graduate Center of the City University of New York conducted a massive study of over 50,000 adults across the U.S. to determine their religious identification. 3 They found that 76.5% of American Adults identified themselves as Christian. This was a reduction averaging almost one percentage point per year since the Center's earlier study in 1990. Among the smaller non-Christian religious groups, ethical systems and theological systems are:

bullet Agnostic: 991,000
bullet Pagan: 140,000
bullet Wiccan: 134,000
bullet Spiritualist: 116,000
bullet New Age: 68,000
bullet Church of Scientology: 55,000
bullet Humanist: 49,000
bullet Deity: 49,000
bullet Taoism: 40,000
bullet Druid: 33,000
bullet Santeria: 22,000
bullet Rastafarian: 11,000
bullet Ethical Culture: 4,000

None of the followers of these religious and spiritual faiths were given the privilege of having their faith represented on their tombstone. This is because their faith was not among the officially recognized belief systems for headstones and markers. Yet some faiths with very few followers are recognized by the VA. A list of symbols is maintained by the VA. 2

The "American Religious Identification Survey" estimated that there were 8,000 American Wiccans in 1990 and 134,000 in 2001. At that rate of increase, they probably number a half million at this time. The Defense Department reports more than 1,800 active-duty service members in the Air Force identify themselves as Wiccans. The total in the armed forces is unknown. There is no obvious excuse -- other than simple religious discrimination and bigotry -- why the VA was unable to approve of Wicca and at least some of the other faith groups listed above.

References used:

  1. "Application for standard government headstone or marker for installation in a private or state veterans cemetery," Veterans' Administration form 40-1330, at: http://www.cem.va.gov/pdf/401330.pdf
  2. "Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers," Burial & Memorial Benefits, Veterans Benefits & Services, at: http://www.cem.va.gov/
  3. "Self Described Religious Identification of U.S. Adult Population, 1990 - 2001," American Religious Identification Survey, at: http://www.gc.cuny.edu/studies/key_findings.htm

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Copyright 2002 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-JAN-13
Latest update: 2009-OCT-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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