Monks Take on Funeral Directors and Win

July 25, 2011
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Afederal judge in New OrleansThursday ruled unconstitutional a state lawlimiting the sale of casketsto licensed funeral directors and establishments.

The ruling came in a case brought by the monks at St. Joseph Abbey in Covington alleging the law amounted to unconstitutional economic protectionism.

In his ruling, Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. found that the law violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

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Judge Duval wrote “there is no rational basis for the State of Louisiana to require persons who seek to enter into the retailing of caskets to undergo the training and expense necessary to comply with these rules.”

Lawyer Scott Bullock, who formed part of the Benedictine monks’ legal team, called the statute in question “irrational.”

“Economic protectionism for the funeral industry … is not a legitimate government interest,” said Bullock, who works for the Virginia-based Institute for Justice. “The Abbey will be able to lawfully sell their caskets to willing consumers. That is a great victory for the monks, for the U.S. constitution, and for Louisiana consumers.”

St. Joseph Abbey’s leader, Abbot Justin Brown, sounded relieved about Duval’s decision. The funeral board at one point threatened to jail him or fine him heavily if the abbey’s wood shop sold funeral boxes without a proper license.

“We did not go into this trial because we wanted to make a statement or to in any way be in opposition to anyone,” Brown said. “We went in simply because we felt that this was an unfair law.”

State funeral board attorney Preston Lee Hayes said he expects his clients to appeal the ruling with the federal 5th Circuit Court. If the ruling is still upheld there, the defendants can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which reviews only a very small minority of cases.

“We disagree with Judge Duval’s decision,” Hayes added. “We feel that the evidence introduced at trial showed there is a rational basis for the law.”

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