CARSON CITY -- When President Bush took time Tuesday to meet family members of some of the fallen soldiers from Northern Nevada, a woman whose husband made the ultimate sacrifice was notably absent.
Roberta Stewart of Fernley, who lost her husband, Sgt. Patrick Stewart, when the helicopter he was in was shot down in Afghanistan in September 2005, said she was not invited to the meeting that followed Bush's speech to the American Legion's national convention in Reno.
Other members of the Stewart family were invited to the brief, private meeting, including her husband's parents and brother, as were family members of others who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Stewart said her in-laws were contacted by the White House last week in advance of the visit by Bush to Reno. But she received no call or e-mail extending an invitation.
Stewart's parents, Steve and Sandy Stewart of Reno, and his brother, Jason Stewart of Silver Springs, offered no comment on the meeting.
Roberta Stewart said she believes she knows why no invitation was extended to her by the White House.
Roberta Stewart, like her late husband, is a practitioner of the Wiccan faith, and she fought with the Department of Veterans Affairs for more than a year to win the right to display the pentacle, the emblem of their faith, on his memorial marker in the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley.
Patrick Stewart had the pentacle on his dog tags.
Roberta Stewart and several other Wiccans, backed by a major Wiccan religious group and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, reached a settlement with the federal agency in April allowing the symbol to be used in veterans cemeteries.
"I'm upset that I wasn't invited," she said of the Bush meeting. "I think it is because of my faith. I feel like I've been discriminated against again."
Stewart said she would have gone if invited.
"I would have loved to have spoken to President Bush and ask him why he dishonored my husband," she said. "That's probably why I wasn't invited."
White House spokesman Trey Bohn said only that Bush met privately with family members of military personnel who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan and that, "we do not discuss private meetings."
Stewart said that while researching a lawsuit to allow the use of the pentacle, Wiccan attorneys came across information indicating Bush was opposed to recognition of the faith. The New York Times reported when the settlement was reached in April that Bush, in an interview with Good Morning America in 1999, said: "I don't think witchcraft is a religion."
The government finally agreed to the settlement "in the interest of the families concerned and to spare taxpayers the expense of further litigation," VA spokesman Matt Burns said in an e-mail announcing the agreement in April.
Additionally, Burns said, the agency settled after it became clear that the Wiccan pentacle would be deemed acceptable under new rules the VA has proposed for recognizing "emblems of belief."
The Wiccan faith is based on nature and emphasizes respect for the earth and its processes. One of its primary tenants is "do no harm."
The space allotted for Patrick Stewart's plaque at the Fernley cemetery remained blank until November, when the state of Nevada sidestepped the federal government and allowed the use of the symbol at the cemetery.
The Nevada Army National Guardsman and four other soldiers died after their Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. Among the dead was Stewart's friend, John Flynn, a chief warrant officer with the guard.
Flynn's widow, Christie Flynn, was invited to the Bush meeting, Roberta Stewart said. "Other local widows were there. I was excluded."
If Bush thought he was honoring Patrick Stewart by meeting with selected family members, he was wrong, Roberta Stewart said.
"I am very, very disappointed," she said.