August 31, 2011
Breaking News in Cemeteries
I've read three, count them, three articles about cemeteries in recent days. And who said that this isn't cutting edge stuff?
1. The national cemetery in Houston, apparently one of the nation's busiest, is the subject of a lawsuit filed against the Department of Veterans Affairs by local veterans groups. The problem is the enforcement of a 2007 policy "that prohibits volunteer honor guards from reading recitations — including religious ones — in their funeral rituals, unless families specifically request them." The local veterans groups want to continue to use a VFW script that dates to WWI and "refers to the deceased as 'a brave man' with an 'abiding faith in God' and that seeks comfort from an 'almighty and merciful God.'”
According to the NYT article:
Department of Veterans Affairs officials say that the original policy, enacted under President George W. Bush, resulted from complaints about religious words or icons being inserted unrequested into veterans’ funerals. They noted that active-duty military honor guards, including the teams that do funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, say almost nothing during their ceremonies.
“We do what the families wish,” said Steve L. Muro, the under secretary for memorial affairs. “I always tell my employees we have just one chance to get it right.”
The Liberty Institute is supporting the litigation, and has a website dedicated to the controversy. You can check it out here.
2. Scientists have been studying teeth and bone fragments excavated from the East Smithfield cemetery in London. The cemetery, across the street from the Tower of London, is the final resting place of thousands of victims of the plague which struck England in 1348. Scientists have been trying to resequence the DNA of the Black Death to determine if it is the same agent that causes bubonic plague today. The microbe Yersinia pestis was found in the East Smithfield cemetery, but not in the St. Nicholas Shambles cemetery, which was closed before the Black Death struck, providing evidence that the microbe was not in England prior to the plague, but brought from somewhere else.
3. Members of the Army's Old Guard have been photographing each of the 219,000 tombstones and 43,000 columbarium markers in Arlington National Cemetery. Congress mandated that the cemetery account for all of its graves, so the photographs are being taken and compared to other data, such as maps and burial cards. The best part of the story is that military officials hope to use the data to create an online database for the public.
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