Friday, February 16, 2007


Denial of Burial

This week the Maine Legislature's Joint Standing Committee on Legal and Veterans Affairs held a hearing on a bill sponsored by Representative John L. Patrick (D-Rumford):
An Act To Prevent Persons Convicted of Child Molestation from Being Buried in a Maine Veterans' Cemetery

Be it enacted by the People of the State of Maine as follows:

Sec. 1. 37-B MRSA §504, sub-§4, ¶G is enacted to read:

G. Notwithstanding paragraphs B and C, a person may not be buried after January 1, 2008 in any cemetery of the Maine Veterans' Memorial Cemetery System if that person has been convicted by a Maine court for the crime of sexual act, sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual contact, sexual touching, sexual exploitation or incest and the victim was under 18 years of age at the time the offense was committed or if that person has been convicted of a similar crime by any other state, provincial or federal court and the victim was under 18 years of age at the time the offense was committed.
Cf. another set of proposed legislation, Plato's Laws, which denied burial to parricides and witches (9.873 B-C and 10.909 C, tr. A.E. Taylor):
If a man be found guilty of such homicide, that is, of slaying any of the aforesaid [father, mother, brother, child], the officers of the court with the magistrates shall put him to death and cast him out naked, outside the city at an appointed place where three ways meet. There, all the magistrates, in the name of the state, shall take each man his stone and cast it on the head of the corpse as in expiation for the state. The corpse shall then be carried to the frontier and cast out by legal sentence without sepulture.

At death he [the witch] shall be cast out beyond the borders without burial, and if any free citizen has a hand in his burial, he shall be liable to a prosecution for impiety at the suit of any who cares to take proceedings.
Denial of burial to witches was a kind of condign justice, because it was well known that ancient witches disinterred dead bodies for use in their magical rites. See e.g. Horace, Satires 1.8.20-22 (tr. C. Smart), where the statue of the god Priapus is talking about the witches Canidia and Sagana:
These I can not by any means destroy nor hinder, but that they will gather bones and noxious herbs, as soon as the fleeting moon has shown her beauteous face.

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