President George W. Bush has apologized to a Wiccan widow who was excluded from a meeting he held with the families of deceased veterans.
While traveling in Nevada in August, Bush met with the families of several soldiers who have died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among them were the parents and brother of Patrick Stewart, a Nevada man who was killed in Afghanistan in September of 2005. But Stewart’s widow, Roberta, was not invited.
With the help of Americans United, Roberta Stewart sued the Department of Veterans Affairs last year after officials refused to allow the pentacle, the symbol of the Stewarts’ Wiccan faith, on his memorial marker. In April, officials with the federal government offered to settle the case by approving the pentacle.
Stewart wondered if her high-profile battle was responsible for her exclusion from the meeting.
“I’m upset that I wasn’t invited,” she told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I think it is because of my faith. I feel like I’ve been discriminated against again.”
Added Stewart, “I would have loved to have spoken to President Bush and ask him why he dishonored my husband. That’s probably why I wasn’t invited.”
Americans United called on Bush to apologize. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, noted in a press statement that Roberta Stewart “stood courageously for religious freedom for all soldiers, and the president was wrong to treat her so shabbily.”
The press release sparked a round of calls from reporters, and the next day, Bush telephoned Stewart and offered an apology. White House officials said the failure to invite Stewart to the meeting was due to an oversight.
During an Aug. 30 interview on Lynn’s nationally syndicated radio program “Culture Shocks,” Stewart thanked Bush for apologizing.
“I just now got off the phone and personally spoke with President Bush,” Stewart told Lynn. “I am happy to say that he did give me his deepest condolences. I will give him the benefit of the doubt, and I do have to give him kudos that he at least took the time to call, give his condolences, and apologize for the VA problem.
“He apologized for the exclusion and the error that was made and said that he admired me for my spirit and thanked me for accepting his apology and said that he hoped he would have the opportunity to someday meet me,” Stewart continued. “I was very pleased with the way the conversation went, very pleased that he did call and put this right.”
Lynn asked Stewart if the president touched upon her Wiccan faith. She replied that the president told her that “he would not discriminate against someone because of their religion.”