Proposal to ban funeral services too extreme

Freedom New Mexico

Funerals are accepted as the final rite of passage in virtually every culture. Here as in most of the world, funerals, and funeral processions, are part of that rite. In addition to showing respect for the deceased, they help offer some closure, perhaps even catharsis, to the mourners.

Texas District Attorney Rene Guerra’s proposal to outlaw funeral processions in Hidalgo County is an extreme measure that seems unnecessary. It’s also likely to be ignored if it’s ever imposed.

Still, local officials should consider ending government involvement in funerals.

Guerra broached the idea after an Alamo, Texas, woman was killed when a constable escorting a funeral procession rammed the car in which she was riding. The car was waiting to make a left turn and members of the cortege stopped to let it pass through. At the same time the constable apparently was passing on the blind side, probably so he could start controlling traffic at the next intersection. He suffered minor injuries in the crash.

This tragedy prompted Guerra to propose banning funeral processions outright, although he said he’d been considering the idea for some time.

He noted questions about the propriety of allowing constables to keep the money they receive from funeral homes or the families. Other issues raise concerns for the use of constables or other on-duty law enforcement officials, such as the cost of using county vehicles or leaving areas unpatrolled while the deputies perform the service.

Larger communities find they can’t justify ignoring those duties, especially when heavy population means that several funerals can occur every day, sometimes at the same time. In those areas, funeral homes are expected to provide their own escorts.

This also relieves taxpayers of the liability that might arise in cases such as this accident. Although mishaps are rare, some people are sure to hold the county responsible if something does occur.

But this does not mean funerals should be banned altogether. The procession does more than offer reverence to the trip from a church or funeral home to the final resting place. It enables mourners to get to the cemetery even if they don’t know how to get there, or where in the park the burial will be. An orderly motorcade probably is safer than having large numbers of drivers unsure of their final destination, or driving around a cemetery looking for the right location. Two or even more burial ceremonies do take place at the same burial park on occasion.

Guidelines for such processions might be appropriate, such as staying to the right to keep

traffic from passing on both sides. Officials and funeral directors could even determine preferred routes to minimize risks.

For this reason alone we can expect funeral processions to continue, even if they’re informal. Eliminating the current courtesy of allowing them to continue through intersections without stopping would avoid the more dangerous situation of drivers speeding to catch up with the cortege after stopping at a controlled crossing.

Certainly, a review of current practices would be welcome; it could lead to more efficient management of funeral processions. At least, officials should consider ending the use of publicly funded escorts, in the name of frugality and overall public safety.

Banning funeral processions, however, is an extreme measure that should be allowed to die.