4/14/2010— An alarmist letter from the Catholic Cemeteries Conference (CCC, a lobbying association) delayed the mark-up of HR3655, the Bereaved Consumers Bill of Rights Act of 2009. Sponsor Bobby Rush pulled the bill from markup in the House Energy and Commerce Committee May 5 after the CCC sent a letter to lawmakers full of exaggerated and just plain false claims. HR3655 would extend the Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule to cemeteries, crematories, and third-party merchandise sellers. Consumers would have the right to printed, itemized price lists, freedom of choice in purchase, and accurate information. The bill will likely be resubmitted to the Committee after Rep. Rush has time to consider the situation.
In a bid to persuade lawmakers to exempt religious cemeteries from minimal requirements for transparency, the CCC claimed the bill would interfere with the religious freedoms of Catholic cemeteries through the "federalization of local religious operations," and by allowing the government to "polic[e] what religious organizations say to their members.” Objecting to the idea that Catholics who buy burials at church cemeteries are "consumers"—and ignoring the fact that parishioners usually pay thousands of dollars for the privilege—the Conference claimed Catholic cemeteries were a "ministry," and therefore off-limits to regulators.
Crying government interference with religious practice is fightin' words in the United States. Real instances of government meddling in religious practices should alarm anyone, but the CCC is crying wolf. Nothing in HR3655 would interfere in any way with the religious burial rites or practices of any faith tradition. It would merely:
- Require all cemeteries to give grieving families printed price lists before they buy
- Require all cemeteries to give families copies of cemetery rules and regulations on permissible monuments, maintenance, etc.
- Give all cemetery consumers the right to buy only the merchandise they desire, and allow them to buy cemetery goods from third party vendors
- Prohibit cemeteries from lying about legal requirements (claiming, for example, that grave vaults are required by law)
How would this interfere with any religious ritual? What religion holds an an article of faith that members who pay for church-run cemetery services should be denied price and rule information? None, of course, and we can't imagine why any religiously operated cemetery would object to rules that require ethical, honest, transparent treatment of vulnerable consumers during a difficult and costly transaction.
Funeral Consumers Alliance pushed back with a letter correcting the misinformation and fear-mongering. We noted:
- The bill imposes next-to-no costs, just the price of a few sheets of paper and the time it takes to alert staff of consumer rights
- The nation's 21,000 funeral homes have been subject to these same rules for 26 years and no harm has come to the mortuary business
- Families who choose burial in religious cemeteries deserve the same basic consumer protections as all other families