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ACLU files religious discrimination lawsuit over Imam's access to end-of-life paperwork

Delaware Public Media

The ACLU of Delaware files a federal lawsuit alleging religious discrimination over access to essential end-of-life paperwork.

The suit alleges the Delaware Board of Funeral Services is unconstitutionally denying a Muslim Imam the ability to download and file death certificates and body transfer paperwork online because he is not a licensed funeral director.

A person must complete 25 embalmings to obtain that license in Delaware, but the Muslim faith considers embalming a desecration of the body - preventing Imams from completing the requirement.

ACLU Attorney Dwayne Bensing says that’s left the Imam to choose between their religious beliefs or paying exorbitant fees to a licensed funeral director to handle the paperwork.

“Which are really just the access to this certificate which costs like $25," Bensing says. "But funeral directors are charging, for the work-around, upwards of thousands of dollars.”

Bensing says funeral directors in Delaware have a monopoly on the licenses.

“So they are profiting off of this exclusionary practice that the state of Delaware is signing off on because they require for funeral directors to get their licenses this embalming requirement, which really is not applicable to Muslim burials," Bensing says. "And worse than that, it is sacrilegious to the Muslim faith.”

Muslim funerals are done within a few hours of death with a simple cleansing and wrapping of the body, with little to no viewing by family or friends.

The ACLU was unsuccessful in securing an exemption for the Imam. It also alleges the Delaware Board of Funeral Services has increasingly targeted him by urging local hospitals to refuse to release bodies to the Imam. This has caused some licensed Delaware funeral directors who worked with the Imam to discontinue their partnership because they feared punishment by state officials.

Rachel Sawicki was born and raised in Camden, Delaware and attended the Caesar Rodney School District. They graduated from the University of Delaware in 2021 with a double degree in Communications and English and as a leader in the Student Television Network, WVUD and The Review.