ACTION - Lammas 2007 - Article 2

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A First Dedication at Arlington
By Christopher Blackwell

Photo to left by Leo Shane III/S&S - Rev. Barry Lynn (left) of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary in Wisconsin deliver a blessing over the grave site of Jan Deanna O’Rourke on July 4. “Used with permission of Stars and Stripes. © 2007 Stars and Stripes”

The latest dedication is the first to include both a Christian cross and a Wiccan pentacle. Captain William O’Rourke was buried under a Christian cross nine years earlier, but his wife’s side remained blank.

Jan Deanna O’Rourke was Wiccan High Priestess of the Middle Earth tradition in Florida. She was a successful business person who was generous with both her time and money, and who dedicated her life to service. Every year at Yuletide she took a different family in need on a shopping spree. She continued this even after her own house was destroyed by Hurricane Charley in Aug. 2004. She received many awards for service, including Big Sister of the Year, and worked on the Florida State Democratic Committee. Part of her service included interfaith work.

On February 16, 2005, she said, “At this point if I was to die tomorrow I would be eligible for a Wiccan service, just no pentacle on my headstone. Hopefully this will be changed before my demise.”

Less than a year before her death, O’Rourke said at a Interfaith and Religious Freedom Day, “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!”

She died 8 days later. A friend, and member of the same religious community, Rev. Paula Johnson, dedicated herself to helping Jan get her wish. Johnson would join with Circle Sanctuary and other Pagans in the fight for the acceptance of the Wiccan pentacle by the Veterans Administration as a religious emblem for veteran headstones.

For two years O’Rourke lay in Arlington without any symbol to mark her faith on her headstone.

Because of the settlement of the religious discrimination lawsuit, brought by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Circle Sanctuary and others against the VA, a replacement headstone engraved with both the Christian cross and the Wiccan pentacle was delivered to Arlington National Cemetery on May 1.

On the morning of July 4 Rev. Selena Fox, senior minister of Circle Sanctuary and others held an interfaith consecration ceremony of the new headstone marking the graves of both Capt. William O’Rourke and Jan Deanna O’Rourke. The service commemorated the life of Jan O’Rourke, inter-religious collaboration, and the importance of religious freedom for all.

The following assisted Fox in conducting the ceremony:

Rev. Barry Lynn, United Church of Christ minister, and Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (Washington, D.C.)

Paula Johnson, Gardnerian Wiccan priestess (Florida)

Margot Adler, Wiccan priestess, author, and elder (New York)

Marci Drewry, Director of Military Affairs, Sacred Well Congregation (Virginia)

Michael Akins, Executive Director, Military Pagan Network (Maryland)

Orion Foxwood, Elder in Celtic Traditional Witchcraft, High Priest of Foxwood Temple and Faery Seer - Author

Kathryn Fuller, High Priestess of Circle of the Wildewood & National First Officer emeritus, Covenant of the Goddess (New Mexico)

David and Jeanet Ewing, Stewards of the Order of the Pentacle, and directors of Northern Virginia Pagan Network (Virginia) Debby Morris and Suzanne Krall, the Goatwalkers, and Order of the Pentacle (Maryland)

Rev. Charles Butler, III, Founder of Ecumenicon Fellowship (Maryland)

Captain Richard Arlington Briggs, Jr. and April Brennan, Order of the Pentacle (New Jersey and Texas)

They celebrated both a person and a Pagan victory, but best was the knowledge that others would not have to go through this fight. On July 5 the Stars and Stripes reported Rev. Fox said, “And now, I’m hearing from people that are requesting and getting [the pentacle] without me being included in a fight. That makes us very, very happy.”

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