Here in the United States, the free exercise of religion is laid out in the first amendment to the Constitution. It’s a big deal when someone has their rights violated, and now the federal government is investigating whether or not that was the case in Dudley, Massachusetts.
In Dudley, a group known as the Islamic Society of Greater Worcester purchased more than 50 acres of farmland for what was going to be used as a Muslim cemetery. Their plans have not come to fruition so far, as the town rejected the cemetery, saying that a cemetery would cause harm to the environment and surrounding traffic.
The ISGW would not take the rejection lying down, and hired a team of lawyers to take on the town. They have also attracted the attention of the feds, and United States attorney Carmen Ortiz has announced that an investigation is now underway to see if the group’s first amendment rights were violated by the rejection.
ISGW attorney Jay Talerman has said that the town of Dudley has shown an anti-Muslim bias in the past, and that it affected their decision for the cemetery. The investigation by federal prosecutors will see if Dudley acted discriminately and if there was also a violation of the Religious Land Use Act.
Ortiz commented that “All Americans have the right to worship and to bury their loved ones in accordance with their religious beliefs, free from discrimination.” The ISGW and town officials from Dudley have still been speaking, hoping to reach an agreement that would allow the group to have their cemetery. Talerman said that a commitment has not yet been agreed upon, so the stalemate continues.
Dudley officials are saying that their decision was not based on religion, but rather nothing more than a zoning issue. A statement released by the town said that Dudley “welcomes this investigation as an opportunity to show that the town’s zoning and land use practices do not violate any religious rights.” Unfortunately, rejections of Muslim cemeteries have been popping up around the United States and similar investigations have been launched in states like Minnesota, Texas and Pennsylvania.
The town of Dudley has brought up good points and bad points when it comes to the situation. The cemetery proposal site used to be a dairy farm many years ago. They fear a contamination of the groundwater due to Muslim burial practices that do not include coffins or embalming. While that makes sense, their other concerns are worrying.
Some of the residents say that there would be more vandalism and traffic in the area, which is not welcome on the small road where the farm is. One resident cited a noise concern, saying that he didn’t want to have to hear the “crazy music” that would be coming from the cemetery. One thing is for sure, the stand-off between the two sides is far from over.