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Pagans in the Military

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Pagans in the Military

Pagan soldiers have unique needs which the US Military is trying to address.

Image (c) Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Whether you're a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard, if you're a Wiccan or Pagan, you're entitled to the same religious rights as people of other faiths. You can have the word "Wiccan" imprinted on your dog tag, you can pray to your own gods or goddesses, and you can even attend services and rituals held on your base, if you're fortunate enough to be in an area that has other Pagans in it.

Government entities do recognize Wicca as a religion. In 2001, the revised edition of the U.S. Air Force Personnel Data System (MilMod) included Dianic Wicca, Druidism, Gardnerian Wicca, Pagan, Seax Wicca, Shamanism, and Wicca. Not only that, the Military Chaplain's Handbook acknowledges Wicca within its pages and outlines procedures for interacting with Wiccan and Pagan soldiers.

The Ultimate Sacrifice

In May, 2007, after nearly a decade of delay, the Veteran's Association decided that they would allow the pentacle to be placed on the headstones of fallen Pagan and Wiccan soldiers. This stems in part from a lawsuit filed by Roberta Stewart, widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2006. The ensuing publicity, spearheaded by the Veteran's Pentacle Quest, brought the plight of deceased Pagan soldiers to the public eye. There is still a movement in place to add more Pagan symbols, such as the Asatru Hammer and others, but for now, it's a worthy victory for American Wiccans and Pagans to see the pentacle added to the list of approved emblems.

Comments from Politicians

In 1999, state representative Bob Barr (R-Ga) commented that he would like to see the practice of Wicca banned on military bases. In a response, Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary asked, "If Rep. Barr and others succeed in outlawing this religion, what faith is safe?"

Later that year, when asked about Barr's comments, George W. Bush (who was at that time the governor of Texas) replied, "I don't think that witchcraft is a religion. I wish the military would rethink this decision."

Support for Warriors

In 2005, Circle Sanctuary started a support group called Warrior Circle for active duty Pagans and their families. As the number of people practicing earth-based faiths increases within the military, so does the need for military chaplains to make available appropriate support for them. This includes providing meeting space for the conducting of Wiccan and Pagan religious ceremonies at military installations.

In December 2006, Rev. Michael Akins, Executive Director of the Military Pagan Network met with US Air Force Chief of Chaplains, Chaplain (MajGen) Charles C.Baldwin, and his Deputy, Chaplain (BrigGen) Cecil R. Richardson. According to a press release, topics discussed during the meeting included the need for acceptance of the support of military pagans by USAF chaplains throughout the world, ensuring religious accommodation issues are addressed at the appropriate level, communication modes when incidents of religious discrimination arise, and non-chaplain lay support of non-mainstream spiritual paths.

What If You're Being Harassed?

In the United States military, there is a need for cohesive discipline. When one member of the group is singled out and targeted for discrimination by others, it can lead to a potential breakdown of the unit. Despite the military's contention that they are trying to treat all faiths equally, there is still a significant lack of access to support for Pagans and Wiccans in the armed forces. In 2006, Army chaplain Don Larsen applied to become the Army's first Wiccan chaplain. Not only was his request denied, but he was also removed from the chaplaincy program.

If you feel you are being unfairly treated because of your spiritual path, here are a few things you should do:

  • Try some basic communication - it's entirely possible that the person doing the harassment has no idea just how offensive their words are. If you can, point out to them that their comments are insensitive. This may nip things in the bud, because many people just don't know any better.
  • Document everything. Write down any incident, no matter how small, of discriminatory or harassing behavior.
  • First and foremost, follow the chain of command. The military is a well-oiled machine, and one of the reasons it works so well is because there is a procedure for everything. If you're being harassed, go to your dierct superior before you do anything else. Try to fix problems on the lowest level possible.
  • If regular military channels do not resolve the issue you still have a couple of other options. You can file a complaint through the Inspector General (IG). The IG has the responsibility of investigating complaints and enforcing regulations.
  • If neither of these works for you, consider filing an Article 138 complaint. The procedure for this varies among different branches of the miltary, so be sure to read all applicable regulations.
  • Consider retaining legal counsel. Information on attorneys who handle religious discrimination cases can be found at the Military Pagan Network and the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.

Above all, military folks, try to remember that while you're out there protecting the rights and freedoms of the rest of America, your own rights are worth protecting as well.

For some great information about how to survive as a Pagan or Wiccan in the military, be sure to read Stefanie Barner's book, Faith and Magick in the Armed Forces.

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