Muslims in US
Demonstrators hold signs during a protest against President-elect Donald Trump and in support of Muslims residents in downtown Hamtramck, Michigan, Nov. 14, 2016. REUTERS/Brittany Greeson

A central Massachusetts town is divided over a proposed Muslim cemetery, with the state attorney general and the U.S. attorney’s office warning local officials of possible violation of civil-rights laws, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday. A local Islamic body wants to build the cemetery on an abandoned farmland, but the plan has met with opposition from town authorities who have cited concerns about its environmental impact, likely traffic issues and noise.

The dispute is in Dudley, where the Islamic Society of Greater Worcester — a non-profit located in Worcester, central Massachusetts — serves more than 350 Muslim families. Several of these families bury relatives at a Muslim cemetery in Connecticut, which is now getting filled. The society is planning to buy 55 acres of farmland to turn it into a cemetery.

However, the Dudley Board of Selectmen dismissed the proposed project, triggering a federal investigation. Town residents voiced concerns about Islamic burial practices, which they say could contaminate groundwater because Muslims do not embalm bodies and bury the dead without caskets.

“This is 100 percent fear and bias,” Jason Talerman, a lawyer for the Islamic Society, said, according to the Journal.

However, Gary Brackett, a lawyer for the town of Dudley, shot down any allegations of anti-Muslim bias in the town.

“The same concerns would have been raised whether it was a Catholic, or Jewish, or Protestant cemetery,” Brackett reportedly said.

The society said majority of the farmland it wants to buy is wetlands and up to 12 acres would be used for the burial ground, which is expected to hold 10 to 12 burials a year. It would be able to fit in as many as 10,000 plots over time, according to Talerman.

In August, the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, Carmen Ortiz, said her office would look into whether Dudley had violated the Islamic Society’s “right to religious exercise” citing “unreasonable barriers” over the proposed cemetery, the Journal reported.

Brackett, who maintained town officials did not violate civil-rights laws, told the newspaper the state attorney’s office was investigating the matter. He also said Dudley could give permission to the society for the burial ground but that would require a vote in the town.

Similar disputes have risen in cities in other states, including in Carlisle, Pennsylvania; Farmington, Minnesota; and Farmersville, Texas, where residents and officials have resisted new cemetery projects.