Economics

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.

NEXT: Reason.tv: Afraid to Create Jobs - Brian Calle on Why Businesses Aren't Hiring

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The Bishop!

    Animated crime-series-type titles, with suitable music:

    ‘C. OF E. FILMS’
    ‘IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE SUNDAY SCHOOLS BOARD’
    ‘PRESENT’
    ‘THE BISHOP’
    ‘STARRING THE REVEREND E, P. NESBITT’
    ‘AND INTRODUCING F. B. GRIMSBY URQHART-WRIGHT 4S THE VOICE OF GOD’
    ‘SPECIAL EFFECTS BY THE MODERATOR OF THE CHURCH OF SCOTLAND’
    ‘DIRECTED BY PREBENDARY ~CHOPPER” HARRIS’

    (Exterior beautiful English church. Birds singing, a hymn bring sung. Suddenly, sound of a high-powered car roaring towards the church. Screech of tyres as a huge open-top American car screeches to a halt outside the church. The bishop leaps out. Behind him (as throughout the film) are his four henchmen… vicars with dark glasses. They wear clerical suits and dog collars. They leap out of their car and race up the drive towards the church. As they do so the hymn is heard to come to an end. Sound of people sitting down. Cut to interior of church. Vicar climbing up into pulpit. Cut back to exterior. The bishop and his vicars racing through the doors. Interior of church. Shot of vicar in pulpit.)

    1. I take as my text for today…

      1. The text, vic! Don’t say the text!

  2. Hey. If you bury someone in a defective coffin, they could get hurt. These regulations are for public safety.

    1. I’d be interested to know where the Dead Lobby stands on this issue. After all, winning the dead vote is very important to getting elected in most big cities.

    2. Why don’t the monks market them as hope chests?

    3. Leaky coffins can lead to groundwater pollution. And then mass zombification.

      These regulations are essential.

  3. Broken caskets theory dictates that poorly constructed caskets are an invitation for grave robbers, necrophiles, and cannibals.

    1. “Licensing laws allow for more comfortable caskets. We should keep them.”

      Count Dracula

    2. Also, broken caskets will allow the living dead to come forth and feast on the flesh of the living.

      We can not allow that!!!

  4. it’s for the children.

  5. Is there a Ralph’s around here?

  6. I would just like to take this opportunity to point out that the funeral industry is scum. Fuck those guys. Donate your body to a medical school or something and save your family the expense and hassle of dealing with those fuckers. LA seems particularly onerous, but most states seem to have granted them some kind of racket. The only regulations regarding the disposal of a body should be in regards to sanitation, as with any large piece of rotting meat.

    1. They pray on people’s guilt and grief. They make you feel like giving them 1000s of dollars is the last thing you can do for someone. They are horrible.

      1. Really, “pre-need” funeral planning is the way to go. I don’t like my family enough to do it myself, but still…

        1. Of course if they feel the same way about you, planning your funeral might pretty fun. So perhaps you are doing them a favor.

        2. Jessica Mitford wrote a somewhat famous book about the funeral industry called “The American Way of Death”, where she outlined a few of the abuses that actually still go on to this day.

          Yes, Mitford was a communist and everything, but its still a great book on the subject.

        3. Definitely. We went and did it after my wife’s mother and grandfather passed away within two months of each other. MIL had done nothing, so we had to sit there with the grieving rest of the family and have them stress my wife out by arguing with her about every freaking detail. Her grandfather? Everything was pre-planned and pre-paid. All we had to do was choose the stationery, pick some flowers, and bribe the cops for the motorcade. He was an unpleasant man, but he took care of his business before he died.

      2. “They pray on people’s guilt and grief.”

        Is this about the monks or the funeral industry?

        Cuz those monks pray a lot about people’s guilt and grief.

        Good lord John I thought I was a bad speller! Slow down with the typing dude, take a breath….

        1. You can’t prove that was a typo…

    2. The only regulations regarding the disposal of a body should be in regards to sanitation, as with any large piece of rotting meat.

      In all seriousness, you don’t want large predators to scavenge human bodies and develop a taste for human flesh. That was one of the original reasons for burying/cremating corpses.

      Personally I prefer platform excarnation as a corpse disposal technique, though with dense populations this may not be practical.

      1. large predators…. like really fat rats?

  7. 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.

    Can you spell “P-R-O-T-E-C-T-I-O-N-I-S-M”?

    1. I can’t imagine how anyone could actually believe that this is anything else.

    2. I thought protectionism referred to protecting local producers from competition from foreign or out of state producers. What you’re describing is more along the lines of rent-seeking.

    3. 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.

      Off the top of my head:

      “Your Honor, without strict licensing, the possibility exists that coffins will leak and effluvia from decomposing bodies will contaminate the groundwater”

      It is a bunch of crap, but it sounds legitimate enough for “rational basis”, does it not?

  8. I wonder if there’s an opportunity here for recycling?

    1. Well, there used to be, but then the damned narcoleptics lobby stepped in…

  9. The Pall Bearer’s Union will never stand for caskets without approved carry handles that are inspected for safety before use.

  10. I really have written this down somewhere:
    My funeral plan — a stack of engraved bricks (Citizen Nothing, 1961 — 2081) each with a thumb-sized indentation where a mixture of my cremains and glue can be injected. Then my mourners are to take the bricks and, at midnight, sneak onto the Statehouse lawn and throw the memorial bricks through the windows of the senate and house chambers (and the governor’s office, if doable). Any mourners who remain at large can proceed to city hall and the state supreme court building for more of the same.
    A bequest to a bail/legal defense fund to be made.

    1. Oh — and you’re all invited.

      1. I’m in if you die before me. The wife spent college bailing people out of jail, so she can be on standby for the aftermath.

  11. Really reason? This is a dead issue.

  12. Will the monks handle the arrangements as well? I’d prefer my innards not be harvested for dogfood and my dick not be sold off to be dried, ground, and sold to Japanese politicians as a defense against the attentions of demons.

    1. Aren’t we picky?

    2. Why the hell would you care?

  13. “dick not be sold off to be dried, ground, and sold to Japanese politicians as a defense against the attentions of demons”

    Not enough material there to cover the shipping cost.

  14. Why would they make the P&I argument? It’s essentially the same shot down in Slaughterhouse, it’s going to go nowhere.

    AFAIK this kind of regulation will be examined under rational basis and I’m sure the legislature can pedal some bullshit about ineffective caskets leading to exposure to living things of dead bodies blah blah blah.

    1. If defining marriage as between a man and a woman doesn’t pass rational basis then there’s no way in Hades that licensing coffin makers does.

      Of course, since our liberal judiciary is in love with one cause and hates economic freedom, their rulings won’t reflect this fact.

  15. I’d like to buy a container from these guys illegally just to say fuck you to Louisiana, but I don’t plan on using it.

  16. First off I’ll make the obligatory Penn and Teller BS comment about how they ripped the funderal industry a new one in one of their shows (season 1?)

    Second the government is really not respecting my religious beliefs. Odinism clearly states that I’m to be sent out to sea in a fiery longboat filled with the bodies of my most loyal retainers to drink mead in Valhalla for all of eternity. I blame the teabaggers.

  17. click on my name,you can find cheap watches

  18. In case any of you missed this story, it was helpfully reposted here

    https://reason.com/blog/2010/08…..our-profit

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.