Casket-Making Monks Challenge Coffin Cartel


Fresh from its victory over Louisiana's unique-in-the-nation florist licensing system, the Institute for Justice is challenging the state's restrictions on casket sales. Louisiana is one of half a dozen or so states that limit the "funeral merchandise" business to licensed funeral directors. Today I.J. filed a federal lawsuit that challenges this requirement on behalf of the Benedictine monks at St. Joseph Abbey in St. Tammany Parish, who make wooden coffins and want to sell them to help cover their living expenses. "To sell caskets legally," I.J. explains, "the monks would have to abandon their calling for one full year to apprentice at a licensed funeral home and convert their monastery into a 'funeral establishment' by, among other things, installing equipment for embalming." Since "there is no legitimate health or safety reason to license casket sellers," says I.J., the law is clearly protectionist:

The only reason the state of Louisiana is preventing the Abbey from selling its caskets is to protect the profits of the state's funeral directors. The law is on the books, and the State Board [of Embalmers] is enforcing it, because licensed funeral directors want the funeral merchandise market to themselves.

I.J.'s lawsuit relies on the 14th Amendment's Due Process Clause, Privileges or Immunities Clause, and Equal Protection Clause:

Louisiana is violating the monks' economic liberty under the Due Process and Privileges or Immunities Clauses because keeping the monks from earning an honest living through casket sales simply to protect the private financial interests of the funeral industry cartel is not a legitimate exercise of government power.  Louisiana is also violating the Equal Protection Clause because there is no legitimate reason to allow licensed funeral directors to sell caskets but prevent other individuals, such as the monks, from doing the very same thing.

A new I.J. video outlines the case:

Previous Reason coverage of I.J.'s challenges to state-supported casket cartels here and here. One of those cases led to a 2002 decision in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit overturned a Tennessee law similar to Louisiana's on equal protection and due process grounds. The court ruled that there was no "rational basis" for demanding that casket vendors be licensed as funeral directors. Two years later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit upheld Oklahoma's casket law. Louisiana is in the 5th Circuit.