On July 7, 2008 – Anderson Cooper’s 360 ran a story about the mistreatment of a U.S. soldier by the military because he’s an atheist. This is not unusual as the U.S. military is known for unfair practices against any soldier who does not follow the Christian faith. Rev. Spring wrote the following letter to Mr. Cooper in response to this story.
Greetings Mr. Cooper,
I saw an advertisement on CNN about one of the stories on tonight’s show about non-Christian soldiers being treated differently than Christian soldiers. Being a pagan minister I can’t tell you how many military people I’ve spoken to in the past 2-3 years who have stories about their treatment from superior officers and the military in general simply because these people know they’re pagan.
There have been many stories in the news about the unfair treatment of Wiccans in our armed services. Last year in February Chaplain Don Larson was forced out of service because of a crisis of faith that caused him to leave Christianity and become a Wiccan Priest.
In 2006, Sgt. Patrick D. Stewart was killed in action but could not be laid to rest in the Veterans Memorial Cemetery because the military would not allow his family to place a pentagram on his headstone. Even though for many many years, petitions had been submitted to Veteran Affairs to add the symbol, it had continually gone through a higher level of scrutiny than other Christian symbols. It wasn’t until a court battle by Sgt. Stewart’s family was the symbol added to the approved list more than a year after Sgt Stewart paid the ultimate price for his right to practice his chosen religion.
We are supposed to be a nation that enjoys the Freedom of religion. President Jefferson continually argued this point from the writing of the Constitution and continued to his death.
President Adams proclaimed “America’s Government Is Secular” in the little known document “Treaty of Tripoli” specifically in Article 11.
Many of our founding fathers were adamant about the secular status of our Government. You might be interested in reading an article by Jim Walker about the treaty and other historical writings by George Washington, Ben Franklin and more. You can find it online @ earlyamerica.com/review/summer97/secular.html
In counseling many soldiers as a Pagan Minister it seriously causes me sadness to hear their pain and conflict about their service to the country they love so much. These people are asked to pay the ultimate price for Freedom’s that they themselves cannot enjoy. They are ridiculed, passed over for promotions, and in at least 2 cases they are sent on recurring hazardous duty with other pagan practitioners while Christian soldiers are held back in relative safety or pass over for these types of assignments.
One soldier mentioned to me about being sent on a patrol that was known as the “walk of death” as few soldiers came back from it. He was sent on the walk 3 times, while other Christian members were never sent on the walk. One day he questioned the orders and asked why two of the other members of his unit were not sent on this duty when they were more qualified and better shots than he was. As you can imagine, questioning orders didn’t go over very well with his commander. He was demoted and reprimanded for his question.
It’s not just atheists who are facing unfair treatment within the military. The misconceptions of pagans and our beliefs are also a target. And it’s a wide spread problem throughout all of the armed forces.
I’m very glad you will be shedding light on this topic. But I hope you will be able to expand your coverage to other religious practices so they might have a voice to speak out as well. You can also learn more about neo-Paganism from U.Va’s ReligiousMovements archive @ religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/wicca.html
I’ll leave with a clarification on one of the main misconceptions –
Wicca is a denomination of a larger faith that is often called Witchcraft. It was recognized as a valid faith by the US Army when it was added to the Chaplin’s handbook in 1975 (paganspath.com/usarmy.htm).
Wicca is to Witchcraft what a Baptist is to Christianity. There are many denominations of Witchcraft. Wicca is only one of those. Many people also refer to Witchcraft as the neo-Pagan religion. But some in the community don’t like this label.
Pagan by definition is any religion that does not follow the doctrine of Abraham (such as Judaism, Christianity, Muslim and other faiths that follow a form of the “old testament”).
That means paganism is a large category of religions that cover Hindu, Buddhist, Witchcraft and the large number of Shamanistic belief systems such as Native American beliefs.
Witchcraft/neo-Pagan doesn’t mean devil worship. Pagans don’t believe in the existence of the devil so it’s hard to worship something you don’t even recognize.
If people would just take the time to learn a little about other faiths, to gain an understanding and level of tolerance, then perhaps we could all live in peace instead of needless wars. If we could just focus on what we have in common, instead of what’s different, maybe we could live in a world of peace and love.
Rev. Spring, M.Msc