Pressure to conform
I disagree with supporters of the town of Greece, N.Y., who say that sectarian Christian prayers at government meetings do not impair the religious freedom protected by the First Amendment (“Opening with a Prayer,” WJW, Nov. 14). The United States is not a Christian country, and Jews and other non-Christians are not second-class citizens. It is not right to ask members of the community to bow their heads in Jesus’ name at a government meeting, with the attendant risk of disfavor from government officials and neighbors for not doing so.
In recent years retailers have abandoned the practice of wishing their customers “Happy Holidays,” for fear of being identified with a war on Christmas. While shopping malls are not protected by the First Amendment, why is it presumed that the same pressure to conform is magically absent from a public meeting protected by the First Amendment?
‘Consider detrimental effects’
(Below are excerpts from a letter from Sen. Brian Frosh (Md. District 16) to Edith Ramirez, chair of the Federal Trade Commission, on the proposed funeral company merger that would raise the cost of Jewish funerals in the Washington area. For more on the merger, see Page 4.)
I am writing to express my deep concern about the $1.4 billion merger of the largest and second-largest funeral services companies in the U.S., Service Corporation International (SCI) and Stewart Enterprises, Inc. If this merger takes place, some of my constituents in the Washington, D.C., area could see an overwhelming increase in standard funeral costs. …
In a 2005 consent order, your agency acknowledged that the loss of market competition disproportionately impacts minorities. The FTC noted that the preferences of ethnic and religious minorities limit their choice to facilities providing the customs and rituals appropriate to their specific needs. … Such adverse effects are precisely what my constituents fear they will suffer if SCI is permitted to acquire Stewart.
In the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, Stewart owns the Hines-Rinaldi Funeral Home, the only low-cost funeral home that performs certain sacred Jewish rituals. Under a contract with the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington, Hines-Rinaldi currently provides traditional Jewish funerals at a price that is almost $4,000 less than the next lowest priced (SCI-owned) funeral home. Hines-Rinaldi also respects the traditional Jewish 30-day mourning period by waiting 30 days to bill bereaved families — a service that no other home in the area currently provides. These affordable and culturally appropriate services will almost certainly vanish if Hines-Rinaldi comes under SCI control. Moreover, if SCI acquires Hines-Rinaldi, it will control the four funeral homes that conduct over 70 percent of Jewish funerals in the D.C. metro area.
The proposed SCI-Stewart merger affects an industry in which consumers must make financial decisions during times of profound emotional distress. Anticompetitive effects will take the greatest toll on low-income populations, and on smaller ethnic and religious groups whose choice is already limited. I ask that the FTC carefully consider the detrimental effects that Jewish families in the Washington, D.C., area currently anticipate.
SEN. BRIAN E. FROSH