Media Contact

Casira Copes
Communications Director

June 21, 2024

Wilmington, DE — The ACLU of Delaware filed a lawsuit today in the Federal District Court of Delaware on behalf of a Muslim Imam, alleging that the Delaware Board of Funeral Services (DBFS) unconstitutionally denies his access to download and file death certificates and body transfer paperwork. Specifically, DBFS does not permit the Imam to access DelVERS, the online portal where such records are stored, because the Imam’s religious tenets prevent him from becoming a licensed funeral director in Delaware.  

In order to become a licensed funeral director in Delaware, a person must complete a minimum of 25 embalmings as part of their study. According to the Muslim faith, however, funerals are often conducted within a few hours of the person’s death, and embalming is considered a desecration of the body. Instead, the services are conducted at the local mosque and involve a simple cleansing of the body, covering the body with a shroud, and then immediate burial with little to no viewing of the body by family or friends. Because of the religious tenets prohibiting embalming, the Imam objects to the unreasonable prerequisites of becoming a licensed Delaware funeral director. 

“Delaware presents people from the Muslim faith an untenable choice: violate their religious beliefs or not practice their religious funeral traditions at all,” says Dwayne Bensing, legal director, ACLU-DE. “The Constitution protects everyone’s right to practice their religion free from discrimination, yet Delaware’s law directly prevents Muslims, Orthodox Jews, and others who do not practice embalming from practicing their sacred funeral services.” 

The Imam founded a nonprofit organization to provide free and reduced-price funeral services to Muslims in the area. Previously, local Muslims who wished to be buried according to their religious traditions would be forced to pay thousands of dollars for a licensed Delaware funeral director to provide the service, often charging these amounts as minimums despite families not requiring use of funeral home facilities, transportation, or embalming services. The Plaintiff Imam applied for and was denied access to DelVERS to file death certificates and body transport paperwork. Instead, he has had to work with licensed Delaware funeral directors who oftentimes charge hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars to file the simple paperwork needed. It typically only costs licensed funeral directors $25 to file a death certificate in Delaware. 

“Services for Muslim funerals are incredibly simple, and do not require traditional funeral home facilities. But Muslim families are forced to pay exorbitantly for services they will not actually use,” added Bensing. “There is no public health reason to prevent Muslim families from conducting funeral services according to their faith. Instead, the denial of Muslim clerics from accessing basic forms to conduct funerals only seeks to preserve licensed funeral directors’ ability to charge unnecessary fees to these families.” 

In the years that the Imam has tried to resolve this issue, the Delaware Board of Funeral Services has increasingly targeted him and his organization by filing a complaint with the Delaware Department of Justice and 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. 

“Funerals are among the most sacred rituals in any faith tradition, and Muslim Delawareans should be able to practice their religion without fear of punishment nor gouged by exorbitant and unnecessary fees,” concluded Bensing. 

The case is co-counseled by Mark Billion of Billion Law.