Garden free from religious symbols to be created at Mortonhall

The grounds of Mortonhall Crematorium
The grounds of Mortonhall Crematorium
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A NEW garden of remembrance free from religious symbols is to be created for the scattering of babies’ ashes at Mortonhall crematorium.

The city council responded to complaints about the existing garden featuring a large cross. Detailed proposals for the new space will go to councillors for approval soon.

When very young babies die there is often a shared cremation and the ashes are interred in the garden of remembrance.

The National Secular Society wrote to the council earlier this year claiming it was not living up to its own declared intent of respecting “the wishes and needs of parents” in the sensitive issue of cremations for babies by failing to provide a non-Christian space.

The society told the council: “This can be resolved by ensuring a secular garden of remembrance is provided as standard for the interment of ashes.”

The council drew up its proposals after consulting the NHS, the Scottish Government and neighbouring authorities which have no crematoria of their own.

A spokesperson for the NSS said: “It is very positive to hear the council is taking the issue of providing secular remembrance space seriously, and that it proposes to create a separate space away from the large cross at for interring babies’ ashes.

“Funeral arrangements for very young babies are naturally an extremely sensitive issue, and so it is essential that the anguish of grieving parents is not further exacerbated by the unwanted presence of religious symbols in communal remembrance grounds.”

Fraser Sutherland of the Humanist Society Scotland also welcomed the council move and said he hoped it would be followed by similar provision for adult ashes.

He said: “It’s not about pulling crosses down, it’s just about saying is there another part of the grounds where people can go. It’s sometime portrayed as being militant atheism, but there is a serious issue – some people have had really bad experiences with religious groups in the past and the thought of their own ashes or the ashes of a loved one being scattered in an area dominated by a religious symbol is very distressing.

“I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss that kind of concern as ‘just being difficult’.

“We would expect similar arrangements to be put in place for adult ashes because it is potentially a breach of equality laws to say everyone has to have something under a cross.”

Naomi Moore, chair of the Scottish Secular Society, said: “At what is a difficult time for parents, it’s not appropriate to assume everyone would be okay with Christian paraphernalia like a cross.

“You cannot assume nowadays everyone is going to be Christian. They may not be religious at all or they may have a different faith, os it is right to make things more inclusive. We would support it for adults as well.”

The city council said it had no plans to create a new secular garden of remembrance for adults.

A spokeswoman said the cross at Mortonhall was not intended as a symbol of the Christian faith by the architect, but acknowledged it may be viewed as such.

She said: “Following consultation a garden of remembrance has been proposed, providing a separate garden where babies’ ashes can be interred, and where staff can offer support to families.

“Proposals are still at an early stage and will be considered in more detail by elected members later this year.”