Squirrel Hill rabbi declares 'important victory for religious freedom'
A Squirrel Hill rabbi says an agreement with state officials affirming the right of clergy and congregations to perform rites for the dead is a victory for religious freedom.
Rabbi Daniel Wasserman, who filed papers Monday settling the federal lawsuit he filed in August, said it was important that the agreement extend to all religions.
“I didn't want something that applied only to me,” said Wasserman, 47, head of Shaare Torah Congregation.
In August, Wasserman sued the state Board of Funeral Directors and two Pennsylvania Department of State officials in U.S. District Court in Scranton, claiming they violated his religious right to conduct traditional Jewish burials.
Wasserman said the board twice since 2010 investigated him for performing burial rites in violation of state law governing the funeral home industry. It requires a licensed funeral director to be involved in embalming and cosmetic services, among other things.
Wasserman accused the board of taking actions to financially protect the funeral home industry by using a law that did not apply to him, because he does not embalm bodies or charge for services.
No charges were filed, but Wasserman claimed the threat of fines and possible jail time had a chilling effect on people exercising their religious freedom.
“I said all along that what we are doing is right and legal,” Wasserman said. “The only ones who couldn't see it were the funeral directors blinded by their desire to protect their revenue stream.”
No one admitted wrongdoing in the settlement. Officials with the state and funeral directors industry did not view the deal as harming their authority or position.
“As the memorandum memorializes, the funeral board will continue its past practices,” said Ron Ruman, a spokesman for the Department of State. “As per the memorandum, the board has never discriminated against anyone's religion and never will.”
The settlement did little to alter business for the funeral industry, said John Eirkson, executive director of the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association.
“We don't see anything new or different,” he said. “As long as someone isn't profiting under the auspices of religion, I don't think there is a problem.”
Imam AbduSemih Tadese of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh in Oakland supported the resolution to Wasserman's lawsuit.
“This is a good day for the system the founding fathers put together when it comes to exercising our religious freedoms,” Tadese said. “The issue in the past was the fact there was no clear line drawn between what was religious and what was not. ... It's very easy now for people who want to exercise those rights to do so.”
According to the settlement, any complaints that could involve religious burial rites will go first to prosecutors with the state Board of Professional and Occupational Affairs before any investigation begins.
The state agreed to train its workers about rights related to performing religious burials and to notify licensed funeral directors about the new enforcement procedures.
No financial arrangements were included in the court filing, and Wasserman said he could not discuss any settlement terms.
The Tribune-Review filed Right to Know requests with the Department of State and attorney general's office, which defended the state in the lawsuit.
Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- LaBar: Sting making history fighting for WWE title
- RB Williams believes he’s making seamless transition to Steelers
- No certainty for Pirates’ call-up veterans
- White lion Prince dies at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort
- Pitt basketball team starting to get injured players back
- Brashear cornerback Coleman picks Pitt
- Rossi: Continuing legend of Pirate Ray
- Morton inconsistent, Pirates’ bats go quiet in 5-0 loss to Rockies
- Switching roles on defense doesn’t faze Duquesne LB Stone
- CDC lauds schools for better nutrition
- MLB notebook: Mets add bullpen depth, get Reed from Diamondbacks