Monksí casket fight heads back to court

NEW ORLEANS -- Louisiana’s funeral industry isn’t ready to give up the fight to preserve its exclusive right to sell caskets.

On Aug. 15, lawyers for the Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors appealed a federal judge’s July 21 ruling that allowed a group of Catholic monks to build and sell wooden caskets without meeting the stringent requirements to obtain a license.

Federal Judge Stanwood R. Duval said a state law that restricted casket sales to licensed funeral directors unfairly shielded the funeral industry’s monopoly.

Scott Bullock, a lawyer who represents the monks of St. Joseph Abbey near Covington, La., called the funeral board’s appeal a “fruitless quest.”

“We will continue to represent the monks throughout the appellate process to ensure that this irrational law remains off the books,” he said.

The monks are seeking the right to sell handmade cypress funeral boxes, with proceeds going to pay the monks’ medical and education expenses. Regulators filed suit, saying only they have the right to sell caskets in the state.

Monks' suit over caskets heads to trial

COVINGTON, La. -- A federal lawsuit brought by a group of monks fighting for the right to sell handcrafted caskets without a state license is set to go to trial Monday (June 6) in New Orleans.

U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval ruled in April that lawyers representing monks from St. Joseph Abbey near Covington could attempt to prove that a state law restricting casket sales to licensed funeral directors amounts to unconstitutional economic protectionism.

Judge: Monks can fight for right to sell caskets

NEW ORLEANS -- Monks at St. Joseph Abbey near Covington, La., can sue for the right to sell handcrafted caskets without a license from the Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, a federal judge has decided.

U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval’s April 8 ruling sets the stage for a June 6 trial, during which the monks’ lawyers will argue that restricting casket sales to state-licensed funeral directors amounts to unconstitutional economic protectionism.

“This ruling is a vindication of what we have been saying all along: Economic liberty is for everyone, including the monks of the abbey,” Abbot Justin Brown said in a statement issued by the Virginia-based Institute of Justice, which is arguing on behalf of the abbey.

St. Joseph Abbey opened a woodshop in 2007 to sell handcrafted cypress caskets to the public; proceeds were intended to help pay the medical and educational needs of 36 Benedictine monks.

The board regulating state embalmers and funeral directors issued a cease-and-desist letter before a single casket was sold, citing a state statute that restricts casket sales to licensed dealers.

Monks sue for the right to build, sell caskets

NEW ORLEANS -- When St. Joseph Abbey decided to open a woodshop on All Saints Day 2007 to sell handcrafted caskets to the public, the hope was that the sales would pay for the medical and educational needs of the abbey's 36 Benedictine monks.

The board regulating Louisiana's embalmers and funeral directors, however, would have none of it.