“You gonna remember the damn name, I give a f— if I die with no damn friends, I got my fam by my side and that’s until the end.”
It may sound like an out-of-context bravado battle cry, but it’s actually the inscription that Lynn, Mass. Sonny Santiago’s family wants to inscribe on his tombstone. And it’s also the tombstone inscription that Pine Grove Cemetery – where the family plans to bury its 23-year old son – is prohibiting from its grounds.
The obvious profanity – and the comma splices, though nobody’s said anything about them yet – is what’s barring the message from the tombstone. Ana Dejesus, Sonny’s mother, believes that seeing as she paid for the plot of land, she should be entitled to do with it what she pleases.
In some ways, Ms. Santiago has a strong, First Amendment-driven case to be made. Pine Grove Cemetery was erected and established as a private cemetery in 1850, but was then sold to the city of Lynn in 1930, making it a public domain. But, as precedent informs us, in a case like this, that doesn’t really matter.
Whenever a government entity restricts a privatized system from some particular action, people go up in arms. Numerous restaurant owners who would otherwise have smoking-permitted bars think any legislation prohibiting smoking indoors is tyrannical. Potential Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul rejects government outreach to ensure private businesses abide by the 14th Amendment. And there are those who audibly disagree with affirmative action because they find it unfair. But because health-risk, sexism, elitism, and racism are all generally frowned upon by the populace, the government restriction prevails.
The same will happen in Lynn.
I would be willing to guess that if you were to ask all of the families whose relatives are too buried in Pine Grove Cemetery whether or not walking past a tomb with an f-bomb and an angry, seemingly vengeful sentiment on it would bother them, all but maybe 10 would say yes, it would. The commissioners of the cemetery reflected this same social response, voting 6-0 in favor of denying the Santiago family its request. Plus, the cemetery already had posted a regulation online that states, “the cemetery office must approve all inscription work on monuments;” their scrutiny was to be anticipated.
It’s better for everyone that this message not be inscribed on the tombstone. The case for free speech and personal property is there, but if the family is really this intent on publishing Sonny’s message, they should have the decency to do so in a location apart from where all the other mourners pass. Let the deceased rest in peace — don’t stir them with such vulgarity.