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Religious Tolerance logo

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:

bulletNo symbol.
bullet1. Latin Cross - Christian; generic.
bullet2. Wheel of Righteousness - Buddhist.
bullet3. Star of David - Jewish.
bulletOther: Shown on the back of the form are:
bullet4. Presbyterian cross.
bullet5. Russian Orthodox cross.
bullet6. Lutheran cross.
bullet7. Episcopal cross.
bullet8. Flaming chalice: Unitarian Universalist.
bullet9. United Methodist Church cross.
bullet10. Aaronic Order Church.
bullet11. Latter-day Saints: Angel Moroni with horn.
bullet12. Native American Church of America: Teepee with three feathers.
bullet13. Serbian Orthodox: cross.
bullet14. Greek Cross: similar to the Red Cross.
bullet15. Baha'i: 9 pointed star.
bullet16. Atheist: A stylized symbol of an atom with the letter A in the center.
bullet17. Islam: A crescent and star.
bullet18. Hindu symbol.
bullet19. Konko-Kyo faith.
bullet20. Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now called the Community of Christ): A child between a lion and lamb.
bullet21. Sufism reoriented symbol.
bullet22. Tenrikyo church symbol.
bullet23. Seicho-no-ie symbol.
bullet24. The Church of World Messianity symbol.
bullet25. United Church of Religious Science symbol.
bullet26. Christian Reformed Church: Cross and triangle.
bullet27. United Moravian Church: Lamb carrying flag.
bullet28. Eckankar: Stylized letters "EK"
bullet29: Christian church - generic: A cup.
bullet30: Christian & Missionary Alliance: a cross, chalice, crown and pitcher
bullet31: United Church of Christ: a crown, cross and world symbol
bullet32: Humanism: a stylized image of a human.
bullet33: Presbyterian Church, USA: A flaming cross
bullet34: Ixumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii: A hexagon surrounding a symbol
bullet35: Soks Gakkai International - USA: A complex symbol
bullet36: Sikh: The Khanda symbol; three swords and a rink
bulletListed separately because of copyright restrictions:
bulletUnited Church of Christ.
bulletChristian Science: cross and crown.
bulletIslam: 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:

bulletAgnostic: 991,000
bulletPagan: 140,000
bulletWiccan: 134,000
bulletSpiritualist: 116,000
bulletNew Age: 68,000
bulletChurch of Scientology: 55,000
bulletHumanist: 49,000
bulletDeity: 49,000
bulletTaoism: 40,000
bulletDruid: 33,000
bulletSanteria: 22,000
bulletRastafarian: 11,000
bulletEthical 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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Home page Religious informationBasic info. > U.S. government > Grave marker > here

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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