What started as a spat between a church and local businesses on the construction of a columbarium has gone wider and now the State of Wisconsin have issued an opinion that concurred with the attorney general in Cedarburg – columbaria are the same as mausoleum.
Which has come as a bit of a surprise to the religious community who have been constructing these for decades without any fuss.
The popularity for columbaria has been growing over the years due to: the rise in cremation; the availability/scarcity of land needed for a traditional burial; and the wish of the deceased to be interred at or near their church.
The argument that these are different from Mausoleum is fairly simple: mausoleum can house bodies and cremation ashes, columbaria just store ashes.
However Michael Berndt, chief legal counsel for the Department of Safety and Professional Services, disagrees and issued an opinion (Feb-15) in which he asserted that they are a type of mausoleum and as such bound by state laws that cover mausoleums.
In most states ashes and bodies are treated differently, but this depends on the how the state defines the “final disposition” of human remains, according to Mike Kremski of the Cremation Society of Milwaukee.
In Wisconsin, “the law says that final disposition is going to be either a burial, entombment (above ground) or cremation. And once one of those things occurs, the state is satisfied … that final disposition has occurred,”
Religious communities appear to have a couple of options to pursue. The courts: Eric Rossbach, deputy general counsel at the Washington-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit, special interest law firm. Is of the opinion that depending on the circumstances, churches could challenge the restrictions under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law that bars state and local governments from using their zoning codes to discriminate against religious institutions.
The second option is to work with the legislature and get the issue ironed out, which is the approach being taken by the Advent Church in Cedarburg who are set to meet with state lawmakers in the hope of carving out a religious exemption in the statutes.
As it would appear that the most interested parties are not opposed to some form of regulation or licensing of columbaria to ensure the respectful treatment of remains. For example some churches already state in their bylaws how the remains will be handled should the church close or move. However they consider limiting columbaria to cemeteries would be the wrong outcome.
So fingers crossed some pragmatic solution can be found, it does seem that a little flexibility might be the right answer.
Orginial story: http://www.jsonline.com/news/religion/columbaria-become-more-popular–but-not-without-controversy-b99439856z1-291612941.html