ARLINGTON, Va.—Yesterday, Peter and Annica Quakenbush filed a lawsuit against Brooks Township challenging its blanket ban on opening any new cemeteries. The Michigan Constitution protects individuals’ rights to use private property and engage in any business that doesn’t harm the public. Brooks Township has violated that right, which is why the Quakenbushes have teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to end this ban and fight for the rights of all potential business owners in Michigan.
Peter and Annica want to provide more choice for one of the last decisions any of us will make: where and how to be buried. Their goal is to open the first conservation burial ground in Michigan – a type of green cemetery that preserves the land in its natural state. In doing so they will provide an alternative for people that is both more affordable and closer to nature than a conventional casket service.
The Quakenbushes found a plot of land in Brooks Township perfect for their goals, a white-oak and white-pine forest containing the types of trees, vegetation, and animals native to Western Michigan before it was extensively logged in the 19th century. They bought the property and went to work, obtained the confirmation that they could get a conservation easement, got approval from the local health department, and made sure their plans complied with all requirements for certification from the Green Burial Council. Peter and Annica also contacted the zoning administration for Brooks Township and followed their instructions.
But just as Peter and Annica were making their final preparations, Brooks Township decided they didn’t want a green cemetery and moved to arbitrarily ban them. Because the ban was enacted specifically to stop the Quakenbushes’ plan, the ordinance’s definition of “cemetery” includes “green cemetery, conservation cemetery, burial forest or forest cemetery.” The result being a law so broad as to ban not just Peter and Annica’s project, but all new cemeteries. The Township took this drastic measure because the Quakenbushes had done everything above-board— presumably there were no other excuses to stop the cemetery.
Peter and Annica were devastated.
“We have a dream of providing people with the option to be buried in nature, and we found an ideal place where we could do that,” said Peter. “We don’t see this as a public harm. In fact, we see this as a public benefit. Banning this project for no good reason is deeply disappointing and simply not right.
“We knew starting a burial forest would involve trailblazing, and we were ready for that,” added Annica. “But the township implementing a new ordinance to block our project specifically felt like a really low blow. We have some supporters in their final stages of life, and we want to give them the kind of burial they long for.
“The Michigan Constitution is clear,” said IJ Senior Attorney Renée Flaherty. “Peter and Annica have the right to use their property as they see fit and to pursue their chosen occupation free from arbitrary government interference.”
“This case is about making sure the law is followed fairly and equally for everyone,” followed up IJ Attorney Katrin Marquez. “The government can’t decide to take away your rights on a whim.”
Founded in 1991, the Institute for Justice litigates nationwide to defend property rights, economic liberty, educational choice, and free speech. Previously, IJ has successfully protected against arduous zoning rules and promoting economic liberty in cases such as a North Carolina animal sanctuary’s right to operate in the face of arbitrary county regulations. In Fort Piece, Florida, IJ helped defeat a zoning law that banned food trucks within 500 feet of an established restaurant.
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To arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may contact Phillip Suderman, IJ’s Communications Project Manager at [email protected] (850) 376-4110. More information on the case is available at: https://ij.org/case/michigan-green-burial/