Historic Headstone Dedication at Arlington National Cemetery on the 4th of July
America's first VA-issued headstone containing both a Wiccan Pentacle and a Christian Cross is to be dedicated in a national interfaith memorial service for Jan O'Rourke on July 4, 2007.
Jan Deanna O'Rourke of Florida dedicated her life to service. As a successful businesswoman, she contributed to many charities and was the recipient of numerous awards, including “Big Sister of the Year”.
Plot location 60 7491
Arlington, Virginia is across the Potomac River bordering Washington, D.C.
As a member of the Florida State Democratic Committee, Jan demonstrated her dedication to America in her role as a state committeewoman.
Jan also was a Wiccan priestess and worked in the interfaith community, building bridges of understanding among the world's religions.
On February 16, 2005, Jan Deanna O'Rourke expressed her last wish in an email to friend and Wiccan Priestess Paula Johnson saying, “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..”
Jan O'Rourke died 8 days later on February 24, 2005.
For two years Jan's final wish went unfulfilled. Jan's remains lay in the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery beside her beloved husband, veteran Captain William O'Rourke. The headstone that marked their burial site contained only the Christian cross on her husband's side of the marker. The emblem part of Jan's side was blank, with no pentacle.
Jan's friend and colleague, Rev. Paula Johnson, joined the efforts of Rev. Selena Fox, Senior Minister of Circle Sanctuary, in the quest to get the Pentacle, the religious emblem of the Wiccan religion, authorized by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for use on headstones, markers and memorial plaques it issues to honor deceased veterans.
As a result of the settlement of the federal religious discrimination lawsuit brought by Americans United for Separation of Church and State on behalf of Circle Sanctuary and others, the pentacle was finally added to the VA's list of authorized emblems, and VA-issued memorial markers with pentacles began being produced and installed at a public and private cemeteries across the nation.
On July 4, 2007, we honor the realization of Jan Deanna O'Rourke's dying wish and her interfaith marriage by dedicating the first VA-issued interfaith headstone in the history of the United States to be engraved with both the Christian Cross and Wiccan Pentacle.
Less than one year before her death, Jan Deanna O'Rourke spoke at an Interfaith and Religious Freedom Day and said, “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!
Jan's Independence Day interfaith headstone dedication and memorial ceremony will be conducted by Rev. Selena Fox, Senior Minister of Circle Sanctuary with eulogy by friend and colleague Rev. Paula Johnson. Also assisting will be Margot Adler, Wiccan priestess, elder, and author from New York City; Marci Drewy, Director of Military Affairs for the Sacred Well Congregation; and others, including some members of the Order of the Pentacle, a national Wiccan/Pagan veterans association.
Wiccans dedicate grave at Arlington
By Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Thursday, July 5, 2007
The Rev. Selena Fox said Wednesday wasn’t the first time she visited a Wiccan’s grave site at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. It was just the first time one was identified that way.
“This is the first time the Christian cross and Wiccan pentacle have both been engraved on a tombstone here, and it’s great news for us,” said the senior minister of Circle Sanctuary, a Wisconsin Wiccan community. “It’s recognition we’ve fought for for so long.”
On Wednesday Fox, members of her congregation and other pagans held a consecration ceremony at the grave site of Jan Deanna, a Wiccan minister who passed away more than two years ago.
Her husband, Army Captain William O’Rourke, passed away nine years earlier and had the Christian cross engraved on his tombstone. But Deanna’s side was left blank, because until May the Department of Veterans Affairs had no symbol to recognize her faith.
Wiccan groups have been pushing for the pentacle as a recognized religious symbol for almost a decade, but efforts have been stymied by paperwork and administrative delays by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
This spring, after new rules from the department and continued unsuccessful lobbying by pagan groups, Circle Sanctuary and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State sued the department for the right to put the symbol on gravestones and plaques.
In May the department settled the suit, agreeing to include it among the 38 other religious symbols permitted for veterans’ memorials. Veterans and military spouses at Wednesday’s event called it an important First Amendment victory.
Retired Army Captain Richard Briggs, who is working toward becoming a Wiccan military chaplain, said over the years pagan servicemembers have faced discrimination from commanders and other troops, but as people learn more about the religion the military has become more accepting.
“Coming out of the broom closet can be dangerous, but we have to,” he said.
Army Staff Sergeant Frederick Twombly, a member of the 63rd Engineer Support Battalion, helped set up a Wiccan worship community in Baghdad during both of his deployments over to Iraq.
“We had guys from all over, all different units, all different ranks,” he said. “People would look and say, ‘Wait, he’s a major and he’s a Wiccan?’ And then they’d understand that it’s not just some hidden thing.”
The event was designed not just to celebrate the legal victory but also to remember Deanna, who friends called a kind and generous woman. The Rev. Paula Johnson, who belonged to the same worship community in Florida, said she worked with local charities every Christmas to help poor families with gifts for their children.
“A year before she died, she spoke often about not tolerating religious persecution,” Johnson said. “She’s an inspiration to us all.”
Deanna’s tombstone is one of two in the cemetery bearing the symbol; Private First Class Abe Kooiman, a World War II veteran who died in 2002, also left instructions to have his headstone marked once a Wiccan symbol was approved. Fox said at least four other veterans have also had the symbol etched into memorial plaques since the lawsuit was settled.
“And now, I’m hearing from people that are requesting and getting it without me being included in a fight,” she said. “That makes us very, very happy.”
O'ROURKE, WILLIAM HENRY
- CAPT US ARMY
- DATE OF BIRTH: 05/30/1938
- DATE OF DEATH: 11/26/1996
- BURIED AT: SECTION 60 SITE 7491
- ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
O'ROURKE, JAN D
- DATE OF BIRTH: 03/04/1958
- DATE OF DEATH: 02/24/2005
- BURIED AT: SECTION 60 SITE 7491
- ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
- WIFE OF O'ROURKE, WILLIAM HENRY CAPT US ARMY
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard