Pennsylvania township nixes proposed Islamic cemetery, appeal likely

By David DeKok

HARRISBURG, PA (Reuters) – A rural Pennsylvania township has voted to reject an application for an Islamic cemetery, but supporters said on Tuesday they will appeal the decision.

The West Pennsboro Township Board of Supervisors turned down the proposed cemetery, citing residents’ concerns about groundwater contamination from coffinless burials and about potential declines in property values.

The vote against the proposed 80-plot cemetery on an old farm site that would have served a congregation of Bosnian Muslims came at a meeting on Monday night.

“Oh, yes, we will appeal,” said Alija Sejmenovic, head of the Bosniak Islamic Cultural Center of Carlisle, about 125 miles west of Philadelphia.

The Bosniak Islamic Cultural Center is comprised of some 80 families that emigrated to the United States as refugees after the end of the Bosnian War in 1995.

Their religious practice calls for burial of a washed, unenbalmed corpse in a cloth shroud within 24 hours of death, none of which violates state law, according to Kurt Williams, an attorney for the Muslims.

They have agreed to bury the bodies five feet deep, he said.

Douglas Cwienk, a geologist who testified for the Muslims, said such burials would not impact nearby water wells.

Donald Agar, chairman of the three-member township board, said the proposed site would not be appropriate for a cemetery of any faith.

“This will disturb my quality of life,” said Bill Sweet, whose property adjoins the site.

Fights over proposed Islamic cemeteries have taken place over the past year in Las Vegas; Walpole, Massachusetts; Kuna, Idaho; Murfreesboro, Tennessee and Louisville, Kentucky.

Several were ultimately approved.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Lisa Lambert)

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