Monday, September 27, 2010
At its August 12th meeting, the town board of Sidney, New York (population 10,000) voted to seek an injunction against the Muslim Osmanli Naksibendi Hakkani Sufi Order on Wheat Hill Road to prevent it from continuing to use a portion of the land for cemetery purposes. The order will also seek to disinter the two bodies buried there.
In an article in the local paper, Supervisor Bob McCarthy described the town's basis for the action:
"These burials were done illegally, without notifying local authorities or obtaining proper permits," he said.
"We will be seeking to have these bodies disinterred and stop future burials," he said. "Unauthorized cemeteries have the potential of placing a financial burden on the local government as well as dictating the use of the land for perpetuity.
"It is unfortunate that we have to take these steps to prevent people from gaming the system and climbing on the backs of an already overtaxed local taxpayer, but anything that we have to do to prevent this will include every religion," McCarthy said.
When pressed to describe what legal steps the private landowners failed to follow before establishing the cemetery, Mr. McCarthy admitted that didn't "know what the exact law is."
In fact, New York law permits private landowners to use their property for cemetery purposes provided that it is permissible under local zoning codes. When the Muslim cemetery was established in Sidney in 2005, the town provided written assurance that the use was within applicable zoning codes.
Apparently, the only law that the cemetery violates is the New York state law which forbids cemeteries to be mortgaged. That's a common restriction throughout the states and makes perfect sense. What lender wants to foreclose on a cemetery? But the $200,000 mortgage on the larger parcel leaves the owners with two reasonable options -- pay off the entire mortgage or subdivide the property (with the permission of the lender) and carve the cemetery parcel out of the mortgage.
The Huffington Post has picked up this story and presents it in the broader context of Islamophobia. I find this fascinating because the town board apparently doesn't know what rules apply to the creation of new cemeteries in the town. This is part of a broader problem that my research touches on -- we make a number of assumptions about cemeteries but most people, even lawyers and, apparently, governmental officials, really have no idea what the rules are which govern their creation and management.
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