Taking It to the Grave

Deceased Connecticut woman faces exhumation amid religious and racial issues.

When Juliet Steer finally succumbed to lymphoma, her brother dutifully and loving carried our Juliet’s final wishes. She had been a devoted Christian in life but wanted to be buried in the Jewish manner, under the same traditions that Jesus had been buried with. She had even found a Jewish cemetery with an interfaith section separated by a road from the Jewish section that would accommodate those wishes. When she passed, her brother, Paul, arranged the ceremony and tearfully said good bye to a family member.

Despite the cemetery’s 2009 policy on interfaith burials, one cemetery board member has taken issue with Juliet’s presence on the grounds. Maria Balaban has sued both Paul Steer and her own congregation on the grounds that Juliet had no ties to Judaism. Maria claims that Juliet’s burial violates the spirit of the board’s ruling, to allow persons of different faith with ties to Judaism and the nearby synagogue to be buried with their families. She contests that since no one in the congregation knew Juliet, she did not belong.

However, the Steer family believes the real reason for the objection is because Juliet is black. Four other plots in the interfaith section have been reserved but have not seen Mrs. Balaban take similar legal action. The owners of those plots are white. The resulting controversy has divided the congregation.

It is terribly sad that such petty arguments can befall a grieving family and that human bias, be it religious or racial can inflict so much emotional damage to the Steers even after Juliet’s death. As an Atheist, I believe Juliet was incorrect in her faith. But, I do respect her final wishes. Some things are best left undisturbed.

Read more about this story on CNN’s Belief Blog.


  1. Coragyps says

    That is preety bad, all right. Maybe 20 years ago we had a similar sort of incident here in beautiful Snyder, Texas. An old Black cowboy that had worked on a local ranch most of his life died while the cemetery manager was on vacation. The (wealthy) ranch owners had him buried in their family plot, up in the white, non-Hispanic part of the cemetery. The manager was scandalized on learning of this dastardly deed and apparently raised quite a stink until the town fathers told him to hush: the ranch family was too well respected (and wealthy) to tangle with.

    I’ve always thought segregation after death was even more absurd that before. Is anybody buried in there going to see what their neighbor looks like?

  2. Stevarious says

    I’d say he lost the chance to argue when the body went in the ground. Digging up someone’s body is far more disrespectful than any quibble about what part of the graveyard she should be buried in – you’d have to be some kind of rotten bastard to keep on about it after the fact.

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