(The Center Square) – A Michigan couple has sued Brooks Township for refusing to allow them to open a cemetery on private land.
Peter and Annica Quakenbush filed a lawsuit against Brooks Township in Newaygo County, challenging its blanket ban on opening any new cemeteries.
The lawsuit claims Brooks Township has violated the Michigan Constitution, which protects individuals’ rights to use private property and engage in any business that doesn’t harm the public.
Peter and Annica wanted to open the first conservation burial ground in Michigan – a type of green cemetery that preserves the land in its natural state to provide a affordable and closer to nature option than a conventional casket service.
The Quakenbushes bought land in Brooks Township with a white-oak and white-pine forest with trees, vegetation and animals native to Western Michigan before it was extensively logged in the 19th century. They got approval from the local health department, and made sure their plans complied with all requirements for certification from the Green Burial Council but Brooks Township decided it didn’t want a green cemetery and moved to ban cemeteries including “green cemetery, conservation cemetery, burial forest or forest cemetery.”
The rule bans all new cemeteries. Brooks Township hasn’t yet responded to a request for comment.
The Instite for Justice helped the Quakenbushes file the lawsuit against the township, which has a population of about 3,700.
“The Michigan Constitution is clear,” IJ Senior Attorney Renée Flaherty said in a statement. “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.”
The rule ruins plans for the new cemetery.
“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,” Peter Annica said in a statement. “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.”