Monks Challenge Casket Cartel

Can the government restrict economic liberty just to enrich a group of politically favored insiders?

That’s the question the Institute for Justice (IJ) and its client, Saint Joseph Abbey of Saint Benedict, La., have taken to federal court in challenging the constitutionality of Louisiana’s outrageous requirement that the monks of the Abbey must be licensed as funeral directors and convert their monastery into a licensed funeral home in order to sell their handmade wooden caskets.

“We are not a wealthy monastery, and we want to sell our plain wooden caskets to pay for food, health care, and the education of our monks,” said IJ client Abbot Justin Brown.

Under Louisiana law, it is a crime for anyone but a licensed funeral director to sell “funeral merchandise,” which includes caskets. To sell caskets legally, 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. The State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors is now going after Saint Joseph Abbey for the “sin” of selling caskets without a government-issued license.

More. (HT: Popehat)

10 Responses to Monks Challenge Casket Cartel

  1. John Henry says:

    Interesting article. Reminds me of the Slaughter-House cases. In the style of the Catholic blogosphere, I suppose a less subtle libertarian would link to this article, and then declare ‘it is increasingly clear that libertarianism represents the only truly Catholic approach to public policy.’

  2. It’s not quite as bad in my native state of California, but there were a number of hurdles we had to jump through when my Dad wanted to purchase a plain wooden casket from a monastery in California. There too, the funerial business is a highly licensed and regulated industry, and funeral homes clearly do not like seeing their industry made more free market.

  3. j. christian says:

    I know someone who did a sales compensation study for a manufacturer of caskets. Their salespeople were making salaries plus bonuses comparable to what city officials in Bell make. There are some artificial rents somewhere in the system.

  4. Mack Hall says:

    The brothers of Abbey St. Joseph are kind enough to put up with me for a few days most every year. They are good men who serve the communities around Covington through the Mass at several parishes and missions and through numerous charities, as well as living for all of us a life of physical work, study, and prayer according to the Rule of Saint Benedict. The liturgies and the Divine Office are open to all and well-attended, and many folks from the area volunteer in many ways becaue the Abbey is a very happy, welcoming place. The brothers, many of them quite young, are a blessing to all who know them, and in their apostolic poverty are hardly a financial menace to anyone.

    And I so hope you get to meet Fr. Raph someday!

  5. M. B. says:

    I asked this over at IC and didn’t get much of a response — but I’m wondering if this is the sort of thing a Distributist would support, what with their advocacy of strong trade guilds. I’m generally sympathetic to the Distributist advocacy of small family business and local economies, but I don’t at all like the idea that you can’t hang out your shingle for even something as simple as this without having to be in the good graces of the local bosses.

  6. Big Tex says:

    Well, Darwin, I suspect that participants in any highly licensed and regulated industry would frown upon any amount of deregulation, as that would tend towards more competitors entering the field.

  7. Joe Hargrave says:


    I’m totally with you on that. It’s why I’m what certain Distributists derisively refer to as a “Distributiarian”, i.e. a Distributist with libertarian leanings.

    My idea of Distributism is to promote employee-ownership of businesses – not to establish protection rackets, often for inefficient producers at the expense of more efficient ones.

  8. JH says:

    I am so glad this is getting attention. I and few others blogged on this when this issue was going through the legislative session. It appears the group that is helpin gthe Monks seems ot have a good PR staff. This is finally getting out there

  9. Foxfier says:

    Aaaaw, I don’t even get a nod for the tip back in the Intellectual Property post? Going to go cry….. /joke

  10. restrainedradical says:

    As had been mentioned, legally this was settled by the Slaughter-House cases. The Volokh Conspiracy had an informal poll a while back about the most consequential decision in American history and there was a consensus around Slaughter-House. Unfortunately, Justice Thomas is the only Supreme Court justice willing to overturn it. Even Scalia treats it as a super-duper precedent.

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