Court upholds monks right to make and sell caskets

A small triumph for freedom of religion and a free market.

From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

St. Joseph Abbey casket sales can’t be stopped by funeral industry, federal court rules

A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that monks at St. Joseph Abbey near Covington should be allowed to sell handmade caskets from their monastery, despite opposition from Louisiana’s funeral home directors who claimed a sole right to sell caskets in the state. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision to strike down a state law limiting casket sales to licensed members of the funeral industry.

The decision marks a victory for the Benedictine monastery, which has struggled for several years for the right to sell simple, wooden caskets built by monks in a woodshop to fund their medical and education needs. In 2007, the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors ordered the abbey to cease sales after a funeral home owner filed a formal complaint.

“We’re just really thankful we can continue, because it means a lot to people,” said St. Joseph Abbey’s Abbot Justin Brown on Wednesday. “Every couple of weeks or so, I get a letter or a note or a phone call from people who have had our casket for a loved one, and they all are just so grateful and appreciative. It made them feel so good that they knew these caskets were made with love and prayer.”

St. Joseph Abbey’s lawyers said while the Fifth Circuit ruled against the Louisiana law, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a similar law limiting casket sales in Oklahoma in 2004. The divided opinion now leaves an opening for the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh-in, if the Louisiana board decides to appeal, lawyers said.

[...]

Read the rest there.

Yes, I will include this as a small victory for religious liberty as well.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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8 Responses to Court upholds monks right to make and sell caskets

  1. acardnal says:

    So, the monks were dead right after all!

  2. jasoncpetty says:

    As a sidenote for folks interested in constitutional law, the court’s opinion is a pretty neat exposition of rational basis review of state regulation of intrastate economic matters, especially this contrast of two lines of cases:

    Craigmiles and Powers rest on their different implicit answers to the question of whether the state legislation was supportable by rational basis. Craigmiles looked for rationality and found none. Powers found economic protection to be a traditional wielding of state power and rational by definition. As we see it, neither precedent nor broader principles suggest that mere economic protection of a particular industry is a legitimate governmental purpose, but economic protection, that is favor[i]tism, may well be supported by a post hoc perceived rationale as in Williamson – without which it is aptly described as a naked transfer of wealth.

  3. acricketchirps says:

    Previous casket users had no comment.

  4. BLB Oregon says:

    The funeral directors want a monopoly for themselves and their casket vendors? That’s over the top. I would not be surprised, though, if they figure out a way to charge the equivalent of a “corkage” fee for caskets they don’t sell themselves, such as they have at restaurants when customers bring outside bottles of wine.

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  6. MouseTemplar says:

    I’m a big fan of the monks being able to make a living producing these caskets and have been watching this issue for a long time. In support of the concept, I purchased my own casket ahead of time from the monks at New Melleray Abbey in Iowa.

    My husband is a funeral director and, when he saw the quality of what they produce, added the Abbey to the choices available to the families he serves–nope, no “uncorking fee”!

  7. NBW says:

    That’s good to hear the monks are able to continue their good work. The funeral directors in LA seem to be more about taking advantage of the dead and their grieving. Shame on them.

  8. SKAY says:

    This is very good news.