The Benedictine monks at St. Joseph Abbey in Covington, Louisiana, saw much of their timber felled by Hurricane Katrina. To make the best of the situation, they began turning their downed trees into hand-crafted caskets. Business was brisk, prompting complaints from funeral homes and an investigation by the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. In Louisiana, as in some other states, only a licensed “funeral parlor” may sell caskets or other “funeral merchandise.” Funeral caskets are high-margin items, so local funeral parlors don’t like the competition, and in-state parlors largely control the state regulatory board. The WSJ reports:
This past March, the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors subpoenaed two abbey officials to a hearing. If found guilty of illegal casket sales, each official would face fines of between $500 and $2,500 per violation, the board warned. The hearing, scheduled for mid-August, was cancelled due to a tropical storm.
By then, the monks had already prepared their own federal lawsuit, citing Louisiana’s “casket cartel.”
The state funeral board has nine members, eight of whom are funeral industry professionals. The board “really has it in for the abbey,” complains Jeff Rowes, senior attorney at The Institute for Justice, an Arlington, Va., libertarian public-interest law firm representing the monks. The law, he says, “is an unconstitutional invasion of the right to earn an honest living.”
There’s more on the lawsuit at the Institute for Justice website here.