What Are These?

The answer is here; there's a controversy about whether something like this:

should be included as well.

liberty (mail) (www):
I'm not surprised that there is a copyright issue with the Christian Scientist (or for that matter if there were one with the Scientology) symbol, but the Muslim star? That is surprising. Afraid of suicide bombings, I would understand, but copyright lawsuits?
9.30.2006 7:54pm
Kim Scarborough (mail) (www):
I recognized that assortment right away. My grandfather was a WWII vet; when he died, the VA sent us a brochure that had all those icons listed. The atheist one rocks.
9.30.2006 7:59pm
Owen Hutchins (mail):
The currently recognized religious symbols the VA will put on a tombstone (written without looking at other replies; I've been following this one and am Wiccan myself)
9.30.2006 8:07pm
Owen Hutchins (mail):
The problem is that the VA won't allow any pagan symbol, claiming that they need a "central authority" to authorize one, and neo-paganism doesn't have any such thing, even though it does have a generally recognized symbol ( the pentagram"
9.30.2006 8:08pm
Owen Hutchins (mail):
just read comments-
Liberty, that last symbol is the pagan Pentagram, not a Muslim symbol
9.30.2006 8:11pm
Nobody Special:
What's the atheism central authority, since they have a symbol for that one.
9.30.2006 8:33pm
"Liberty, that last symbol is the pagan Pentagram, not a Muslim symbol"

I think Liberty presumed that folks had read the VA site; the last two listings of available emblems are:

97 CHRISTIAN SCIENTIST (Cross &Crown) Not shown because of copyrights.
98 MUSLIM (Islamic 5 Pointed Star) Not shown because of copyrights.
9.30.2006 8:33pm
Owen, if you click through the first link you'll see that the two symbols Liberty talked about are unable to be shown there due to copyright.

No one said the Pentagram was a Muslim symbol.
9.30.2006 8:33pm
David Thompson (mail) (www):
FYI, the wide list of symbols breaks the layout (at least in IE 6 on Windows) by stretching the main column too far. It breaks the layout on both the homepage and this page.

Just a heads-up.
9.30.2006 8:43pm
Where is the Flying Spaghetti Monster?
9.30.2006 9:03pm
Nobody Special wrote:
What's the atheism central authority, since they have a symbol for that one.
That's a good question for more than the atheist symbol.

AFAIK there is no general central authority for Buddhism. There are several ancient schools or lineages, and they all tend to get along well, but there is no central governing body that I've ever heard of.

One conspicuous absence is Zoroastrian. While the religion is ancient, there are only a million or so adherents world wide. I've known a few in in the USA, so one would think the VA would have encountered at least a few. At least three of the religions represented are of 19th and 20th century Japanese origin and have comparable numbers of adherents.

There is also no Catholic symbol, as distinct from various Protestant symbols and the general Christian symbol, yet there is unquestionably a central authority that could approve one.
9.30.2006 9:08pm
Ben434343 wrote:
Where is the Flying Spaghetti Monster?
Maybe the central authority hasn't yet contacted the VA.
9.30.2006 9:21pm
Brooks Lyman (mail):
Leaving aside humorous comments and questions about "Central Authorities" - I suspect that the Ethical Culture Society may be it for the Atheists; haven't a clue about the Buddhists - these are on government-supplied gravestones, which the VA probably turns out or purchases in fairly large numbers. It would seem to me that the carving may well be done by computer-controlled machine, in which case they could simply tell applicants to submit artwork for any desired design, to fit into a defined area. Frankly, I don't see what the problem is, other than prejudice at the VA (or the rigid military mind, further ossified by retirement, at work...).
9.30.2006 9:46pm
fishbane (mail):
I happen to know an individual who is arguing with the Army about the FSM. He enlisted, because he feels strongly about making the various wars work, and is motivated enough to put his life on the line. (I have policy disagreements with him, it is true, but I respect him more than words can say.)

He's being held up because the Flying Spagetti Monster is not an approved deity.

I wish I were making this up. One might argue that he shouldn't persue twin goals, or any number of other complaints, but in a time when the military is relaxing standards to include marginally criminal and racists, is this the sort of "unit cohesion" we really need?
9.30.2006 9:56pm
Kim Scarborough (mail) (www):
Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism also don't have "central authorities". Come to think of it, the idea of a central authoratitive body for a religion really seems unique to Christianity (at least among religions not invented in the last 100 years).

Does anybody know what the significance is of an Islamic "five-pointed star" as opposed to the crescent moon? Who would request the star?
9.30.2006 9:58pm
liberty (mail) (www):
It does seem very wrong that will use the "humanist emblem of spirit" but not the Wiccan symbol! As someone pointed out, why not just use whatever symbol is requested (perhaps, I suppose making sure that it isn't just a symbol of pure hatred but rather one of broader religion or belief).

I can understand a policy that refuses eg a Swastika because of its (in recent time) association with NAZIsm. Consistantly, then, I would hope they would turn away the hammer &sickle. But I see no reason to be picky about symbols that are purely religious/philosophical in nature without such connotations.
9.30.2006 10:17pm
Tracy Johnson (www):
Off the symbolism but still on veterans tombstones. We had visited a Confederate cemetery last month. Of course Confederate tombstones were approved and not provided for by the U.S. government. They also had a different symbolism, they were pointy at about a 5 degree angle. Whereas U.S. veterans tombstones were curved, as they are to this day. In those cemeteries where they still use tombstones, and have not converted to flat bronze plaques (so the lawn mower can go right over them, methinks.)
9.30.2006 10:51pm
Richard S (mail):
Does the presense of an athiest and a humanist icon indicate that according to the government these are "religions" within the constitutional definition of the term.

There's a strong case to be made in that direction, but as I understand it (defining religion by its ends, rather than belief in God makes much sense philosophically. Indeed definiting things by their ends if oftern the most reasonable way to define them. It results in the fewest internal contradictions.), it would pose great problems for our current jurisprudence.
9.30.2006 11:25pm
Richard S (mail):
To follow up. Isn't this list a case study demonstrating that it is, in practice, impossible to distinguish religions that include God from those that do not--at least when it comes to public functions.
9.30.2006 11:44pm
Beerslurpy (mail) (www):
Why doesnt the government just let vets send in a black and white jpg of a certain size and their automated tombstone cutting machine can just do it. Why is the government creating lists of recognized vs unrecognized religions?

Besides the various joke religions and cults, they left out a number of real ones with wide followings: agnosticism, Deism (faith of the founding fathers), Satanism, Catholicism, Taoism, Confucianism, Yezidism (kurdish religion), Zoroastrianism, Quaker, Mennonite, etc. I'm kinda surprised they caught Bahai and not Zoroastrianism.

If you add in cults and money swindling religions they forgot the Moonies, the Scientologists, the Heaven's Gaters, and probably several thousand others. They also left out several hundred protestant sects, but I personally dont understand why all the christian religions dont just use the cross.
9.30.2006 11:56pm
Josh Jasper:
Aw. You've picked a "Look, I can be kind to liberals too" moment. How cute. Instapundit does that too every now and then. It never goes anywhere.

And Fub, the Zoroastrians have differnt burial ceremonies. I'd be highly surprised if any of them ever petitioned to get a saymbol. Plus, there just aren't that many left.
10.1.2006 12:00am
Spartacus (www):
Liberty: you write "I can understand a policy that refuses eg a Swastika." But you will see one if you closely inspect the approved symbol for SEICHO-NO-IE (fourth row, last column on Eugene's assortment).

Josh Jasper: what makes you think this has anything to do with liberals? Not all Wiccans need be liberal, in whatever sense of the word you may mean.
10.1.2006 12:10am
Kim Scarborough wrote: Does anybody know what the significance is of an Islamic "five-pointed star" as opposed to the crescent moon? Who would request the star?

I am fairly certain it is the Druze star. Someone has posted what appears to be a photo of the symbol as it appears on a VA headstone here.
10.1.2006 12:22am
As to why there are so many missing ones... I'm guessing that they only add new ones at the behest of families, so nobody in the military from those religions has died and asked for such a symbol.

And as to why you can't just submit a B&W jpg... you would still need an approval process to weed out the marijuana leaves and middle fingers. This system automatically takes care of the vast majority of requests (I would guess) and has a system to approve new additions to the list.
10.1.2006 12:28am
Mr. Snitch! (mail) (www):
If you're going to include that Muslim symbol, better include this one as well. They belong together for many obvious reasons.
10.1.2006 12:42am
Mr. Snitch! (mail) (www):
"Aw. You've picked a "Look, I can be kind to liberals too" moment. How cute. Instapundit does that too every now and then. It never goes anywhere."

No, it doesn't. That's because the other side can NEVER be kind to conservatives or libertarians, or, well, ANYone who doesn't support their extreme positions. Those people/blogs are to be bashed at every opportunity, period. Thanks for helping make that point, however cluelessly.
10.1.2006 12:49am
David Blue (mail):
It's not obvious why this dispute should have resulted in a lawsuit.

Wicca is a legally recognised religion. The pentagram is an uncontroversial Wiccan symbol. There isn't anything obvious to argue about.

If a symbol is arbitrarily refused anyway, maybe it would be better to ask for an inscription instead than to take the matter to court.
10.1.2006 1:28am
William Spieler (mail) (www):
Here's the purported "central authority" for atheists:
10.1.2006 1:45am
Why doesnt the government just let vets send in a black and white jpg of a certain size and their automated tombstone cutting machine can just do it. Why is the government creating lists of recognized vs unrecognized religions?

The government already allows vets to submit short, tasteful text inscriptions for the markers. I see no reason why the policy couldn't be extended to images.

As for the government list of recognized religions, I'm not a lawyer, but such a list strikes me as a blatant First Amendment violation. Can any con law experts explain this?
10.1.2006 1:49am
Harry Eagar (mail):
In America at least, I believe the Secular Humanists would have a bigger claim to represent the atheists than the Ethical Culturists.

Native Hawaiians enlist in the armed services at very high rates, and some practice their chthonic religion (or a modernized version of it) still, but it doesn't have a symbol, so far as I know.
10.1.2006 1:57am
Beerslurpy (mail) (www):
Speaking of cthonic dieties, I wonder if there is a recognized symbol for the worship of Shub Niggurath or Cthulu? I know they're fictional, but it would be funny as hell to see that in a graveyard.

Also, what the is wrong with a pot leaf or a middle finger? If someone had the guts to fight and/or die for their country, the least we can do is let them pick what will be on their gravestone, picture and all.

I thought that the sikhism symbol was for some Klingon religion unti I saw it named on the list.
10.1.2006 2:39am
Daryl Herbert (www):
Why doesnt the government just let vets send in a black and white jpg of a certain size and their automated tombstone cutting machine can just do it.

Because someone would choose a picture of a penis.

If you don't want to get into a fight over whether you can say "no," it's best not to ever start saying "yes."
10.1.2006 2:47am
I don't see this one as a particularly big deal -- they will probably get approved.
10.1.2006 3:54am
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
Ken Summers designed a Scientology gravemarker symbol.
10.1.2006 4:37am
fishbane (mail):
Because someone would choose a picture of a penis.

The real issue is that someone feels the need to regulate the final message of someone who fought and died for our country. That many of the people under discussion were personally invested in the part about freedom of religion (much in the same way that I'm, for instance, invested in freedom of speech) is ironic, but sad.

Honestly, so what if someone would like to have a dick on their grave? Who cares? I wouldn't do that, but I want the freedom to do so, and if I gave my life to my country, I'd be pissed off if they failed to remember me as I asked. I feel like this ends up becoming an argument about what nations should embody rather than what individuals can do. The intersection of military workers is stark, but real.
10.1.2006 4:45am
The controversy isn't so much about whether the Wiccans should get this symbol, as about the DoD failing to do so - requests for inclusion, made over the last 10 years or so, have gotten either the "We need a central authority" (which doesn't exist for this or many other religions) or a "We are revamping the application process, try again later" (over the course of several years during which time at least 2 other religions applied and were approved). See here:
10.1.2006 8:43am
Shouldn't there be a big question mark for Agnostics?
10.1.2006 9:04am
BobN (mail):
The atomic symbol for atheism is absurd. Atheists don't "believe in" science, nor should believers in any religion not "believe in" science. The continuing association of science with atheism and vice-versa is incorrect and dangerous.

Side note: I wonder if the copyright issue with the five-pointed star has to do with a corporate logo. Isn't the star the symbol for some oil company???
10.1.2006 9:27am
Owen Hutchins (mail):
ReaderY- they've been trying for more than nine years now, and the VA keeps draging their feet and making each new family start from the beginning. Among the lame excuses over the years, they claimed that they were revising the submission procedures, so nothing could be submitted until they were done.
10.1.2006 9:48am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Alan K. Henderson

I wasn't really happy with the Scientology one there, esp. after reading the comments. One commenter suggested a volcano, and someone mentioned dollar signs. I think the logical thing then would be a volcano spewing out dollar signs. Or, since that "religion" is so sensitive about its public appearance, you would have to make the dollar signs small enough that it wasn't obvious that they weren't Thetans unless you looked real carefully.

On that sideline, I recently rewatched the South Park episode on that religion. I had forgotten why Tom Cruise spent much of the episode in the closet. Definately worth rewatching.
10.1.2006 11:04am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I do wonder though how an emblem for a 1,400 year old religion could be tied up in copyright issues. That makes no sense, unless it is the expression of that emblem that is fairly new. But then, what about Fair Use? First, it would most likely be Fair Use for the Govt. to use it, and it clearly would be here. This forum would seem to fall into the center of that - even given the minimal commercial role of the paid advertising here.
10.1.2006 11:11am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I also don't buy the central authority for much of Christianity. Of course, part of the Reformation was a rejection of the Pope as just that central authority. And because of that, we have a strong history of not having central religious authorities - indeed, in keeping with this, a rejection of central religious authority appears to have been esp. powerful in New England in the 1600s, often with each town having its own independent church. While there was movement towards central authority in the 18th and 19th Centuries, by now, the trend seems to be moving back towards massive decentralization, almost akin to what we saw here 300+ years ago.
10.1.2006 11:22am
Kim Scarborough (mail) (www):
BobN: You're reading it wrong. The point of the Atheist icon is that Atheists believe in the material world exclusively. That's what sets them apart. The atom strikes me as a reasonable icon to represent physical matter.

To put it another way: the symbol of Christianity isn't a cross because Christians "believe in" a cross; I'm not a Christian, but I still accept that the man named Jesus died on a cross. I "believe in" it in the sense that I accept that it existed at one point. The reason Christians have it as their symbol is that they believe there's a very special significance to Jesus dying on the cross.
10.1.2006 11:40am
OK, I don't get the Christian denominational symbols here. I've never seen the United Methodist or Presbyterian ones on gravestones (although I haven't been to Arlington enough to notice); they are more denominational logos than religious symbols, and most Methodists I know would prefer a plain cross to that on a grave.

And, I'm an Episcopalian, and I know that particular cross is neither an Episcopal symbol or special to Episcopalians in a religious way. It is a Celtic Cross, not an Episcopal one, but with its usual circle removed. The Celtic Cross is traditionally used on graves in both Ireland and England, b/c the circle symbolizes eternal life, but it a cultural/aesthetic choice, not a theological one.

I would rather have a wider range of artistic choices of crosses, rather than official logos, so I could put my favorite bible scenes in like an old Celtic Cross does. But IMHO middle-fingers etc would detract from the decorum of a cemetary and would be too offensive to other guests (and too popular wiith the anti-war movement).

IMHO if they did allow JPG's, pictures of the deceased and/or family would be the overwhelmingly most popular.
10.1.2006 12:24pm
Chuck Pelto (mail) (www):
TO: Eugene Volokh
RE: Silly Wiccans

They've put their symbol in upside-down.


10.1.2006 1:29pm
AppSocRes (mail):
The pentagram (paricularly inscribed in a circle) is actually the symbol of the Pythagoreans. I'm shocked that "Wiccans" are attempting to usurp it.
10.1.2006 3:10pm
Richard S (mail):
Is the Star of David the only icon there that says nothing about what someone believes?
10.1.2006 3:36pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
BTW, not all the guys under these tombstones 'died for their country.'
10.1.2006 4:10pm
markm (mail):
As for putting a penis or a middle finger on a tombstone, I'd expect to find very few cemeteries that would allow it. And quite rightly. Perhaps the fallen soldier's widow, mother, and children won't be shocked by it, but other widows, mothers, and children would have to walk by it to reach their own loved ones' sites. I'm cynical (and gross) enough to laugh at such a grave marker, but I wouldn't inflict it onto others at their most vulnerable - nor do I believe in tieing up good land in grave sites. Cremate me and toss the ashes out.

But if there's one cemetery catering to the cynical and insensitive that would welcome such a marker, the VA should provide it.
10.1.2006 9:31pm
Jeremy T:
Seems to me that heathen religions shouldn't get markers. Christians, sure. Jews, sure. Mormons, sure. Muslims, maybe. Athiests, Wiccans, Pagans, Buddhists, etc.? Heck no.
10.1.2006 11:09pm
Josh Jasper:
Well, lets see, Wicca is a *traditionally* liberal religion. Yes, there are conservative Wiccans, but they're about as rare as liberal members of Pat Robertson's church.

Even though this *should* have been a unanimously supported decision, there's been a noticable volume of commentors who've been against the idea, and some who've been just downright nasty. Shall we take a poll and see which of them is a liberal?
10.2.2006 12:15am
Dave N (mail):
Living in Nevada, I will explain the significance. Most people are on the right track. A member of the Nevada National Guard was killed in Iraq (it may have been Afghanistan, but the place of his death is irrelevant).

His widow wanted the Wicca symbold on his grave. The Veterans Administration (for inane reasons) refused since it was not a "recognized" religion.

The dead soldier was buried at the Fernley Veterans Cemetary (close to Reno) and no symbol was placed by his name. The VA still refused to budge despite the widow's continued pleas.

Finally, the Governor of Nevada decided that the Veterans Cemetary was under HIS jurisdiction and not the VAs--and authorized the use of the symbol. Problem solved.
10.2.2006 12:50am
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
I'm surprised that the Native American Church symbol hasn't been declared politically incorrect.

I'm even more surprised that Eckankar has a symbol. If they can get one, just about anyone can. The Cthulhu gravestone symbol can't be far behind...
10.2.2006 1:08am
Warmongering Lunatic (mail):
The Catholic ("Universal") Church probably thinks the cross is quite Catholic enough, thanks, and accordingly hasn't provided a universal symbol.

There are plenty of libertarian Wiccans, of course. At least among the ones who understand the banning others from doing what they will "for their own good" is hypocritical.

If the proceedure in the regulations for adding symbols requires a central authority of some sort, then it's no wonder the Wiccans have been unable to get one. Forget what "should be" -- saying no when backed by the regs is a lot less dangerous for a bureaucrat than sticking his head out and saying yes. And people don't go into the VA bureaucracy because they're risk-takers.
10.2.2006 1:30am
eddie (mail):
What the hell is the VA doing making gravestones? If we want to provide gravestones as a veterans' benefit, why not just send the family a check and let them buy whatever they want from whoever they want? They could get custom stones ordered via the Internet and shipped directly to the gravesite, just like the rest of us normal people not unlucky enough to be cursed with the VA.

This odd little fiasco is simply the story of the VA in microcosm, which is itself the story of the Government in microcosm. Petty socialism with its attendant lack of choice, political favoritism, stifling bureaucracy, and inferior service. We've managed to inflict this absurdity upon a captive audience - our veterans.
10.2.2006 10:33am
Sigivald (mail):
Josh: Wicca's "tradition" of liberalism can't be very old, since it was invented in living memory.

Anyway, I felt I should add that, while I'm an atheist, I think both the idea of a special symbol for them, and especially the specific one here, is ... daft.

But, hey, the Wiccans should get their cute little star, since it looks like any other minor new-age cult can get one.
10.2.2006 1:55pm
Captain Holly (mail) (www):

I'm surprised that the Native American Church symbol hasn't been declared politically incorrect.

I'm surprised it's a recognized religion, since it's a modern-day amalgam of all sorts of Native beliefs and not a direct descendant of a primitive organized church.

Back 150 years ago, most Indian tribes had their own unique religion and cosmology to go along with their own unique language. While there were many features that they shared, they weren't the same religions any more than the numerous modern Christian sects are the "same" religions.

Which brings up an interesting point: Most tribes thought of themselves as the "chosen" people. For example, alot of Indian tribal names such as Dineh (Navajo), Nee-mi-poo (Nez Perce) and Ute roughly translate into "the people", implying that members of other tribes aren't really persons.
10.2.2006 2:27pm
Joe Pajamas (mail):
The athiest one does rock. But why the atom? Why not DNA as a symbol? Can you mix that with the other ones (say if you are agnostic or did the intersection of science vs. religion). I am surprised there are not more Hebrew symbols (seem Christians get a lot of choices) and no secular symbols such as Masons, Rotary, etc. They should certainly add the Wiccan star and probably add the fish and the "Darwin" response.
10.2.2006 6:52pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Virtually all groups have names that translate as 'the people' or 'the men' or 'the humans.' We're a cliquish species.
10.3.2006 12:54am
Jacob T. Levy (mail) (www):
Am I the only one who dislikes the tendency (evident in the NYT article but not originating there) to run together the particular religion of Wiccanism and the general category "pagan"? It seems to me both confused and confusing. The specific modern amalgamation that is the recognized Wiccan religion is no more equivalent to "paganism" than would be a neo-Thorist or a modern worshipper of Hephasteus.
10.3.2006 9:56am
MichaelG (mail):
Wiccan is to Pagan as Methodist is to Christian.
As a Vet and a strict constitutionalist conservative I'm against any part of government determining what is or is not an appropriate symbol for a marker. I rank that right up there with them deciding what is an appropriate gun for me to own. Or how many. :)

On the other hand, according to this article: in response to their questions a rep from the National Cemetary Adminstration said that "you may apply for a Govenment [sic] marker without a religious emblem and have an emblem added later at private expense." As libertarian I've no problem with people instead of government paying. Gets the VA entirely out of the decision process. Always a good thing, right?

I liked the Governor of Nevada's solution. Yeah State's Rights!

MichaelG, a vet and a Druid.
My Father's House has many Rooms.
My Mother's Forest has many Paths.
10.3.2006 6:24pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
Wow, that is one lame collection of symbols. I mean, I'm pretty Mormon, but am I going to have some wierd silhouette of the Angel Moroni on my gravestone? Of course not. Maybe a cross or else nothing at all, because while a little bit of pious hope might be appropriate in military cemeteries, identity politics run riot isn't.
10.5.2006 4:42pm