By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
Religion affects every area of life, especially burials. The Volusia County Council recently directed staff to change the indigent burial policy to accommodate the funeral customs of Jews, Muslims and some Christian sects.
"We're going to allow people to apply for indigent reimbursement after the person is buried," County Manager Jim Dinneen said.
Jews, Muslims and members of some Christian sects require burials be done within strict timetables after death. Council member Pat Northey, of Deltona, brought up the subject at the council's Sept. 20 regular meeting.
In an interview after the meeting, she said conversations with Dr. Syed-Bilal Ahmed and Bill Long, owner of Altman Long Funeral Homes and Cremation Center, 145 S. Charles Richard Beall Blvd., DeBary, showed her the need to have post-burial indigent reimbursements. She said a Deltona Muslim died earlier this year and it was impossible to contact the county for indigent burial in time to accommodate the religion's requirements.
"We declined to consider the indigent burial," Ms. Northey said. "Some in the Muslim community came forward to pay for it."
That isn't unique. Gloria Max, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Volusia & Flagler Counties, a social-service agency that serves all people, said the Jewish community has helped the agency with indigent burial requests. However, that is getting increasingly harder to count on.
"Our donations are way down," Ms. Max said. "The people who used to donate to us are dying and not being replaced. We don't have enough money to pay for burials right now."
Dave Byron, county spokesman, said the county has paid for more than 80 burials and 250 cremations this year. Three funeral-service providers have contracts with the county. In addition to Altman Long, Alavon Direct Cremation Service and Dale Woodward Funeral Homes have contracts with the county to provide indigent funeral services. The county pays up to $1,995 for burials and $600 for cremations.
Muslims are strictly forbidden from cremation, as are others. Ms. Northey said the county has a responsibility to ensure its service is available to all people, regardless of their faith and practices.
"I do not believe we should be interfering in the religious customs of any community," she said. "I just wanted to be sure we were being sensitive to what, in Volusia County, is a very diverse community."
However, Robyn Harrington Schmidt of DeLand wondered if the county isn't inviting First Amendment concerns by changing a rule just to accommodate a couple religions. She's an ordained, non-denominational minister, but not serving a congregation.
"It's one of those gray areas," she said. "If you start doing this, what's next?"
Also, she said religious communities know and help their own.
"If someone is a very devout, practicing Muslim or Jew, you'd think they'd have a spiritual family who could help with burial as well," she said.