Last Modified: Thursday, July 25, 2013 6:00 PM
The ongoing fight by the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors against the right of the monks of St. Joseph Abbey in Covington is both an embarrassment to the state and an affront to the free enterprise economic system.
Federal district and appeals courts struck down a regulation that only state-licensed funeral directors may sell coffins in Louisiana, saying it existed only to protect special interests and lacked any reasonable legal grounds such as protecting consumers or public health.
Such “economic protectionism” is not only legitimate but so pervasive “that it may be practically impossible to avoid it,” attorneys for the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors wrote in their request.
“The idea that courts — federal or state — could change this perhaps regrettable truth is just unworkable,” they wrote.
Scott Bullock of the nonprofit Institute for Justice, which represents the monks of St. Joseph Abbey, laughed at that contention.
“That’s just an amazing statement — to say that courts should not interfere in the slightest, even if the apparatus of government is used — and this is the important point — solely to enrich private special interests at the expense of other competitors and consumers,” said Bullock, whose organization describes itself as “a merry band of libertarian litigators.”
He called it a shocking statement for any government body. “But it would be even more shocking if the Supreme Court was to hold that,” he said.
In 2002, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a similar Tennessee law, saying the state licensing requirements created an unnecessary barrier to other retailers.
The funeral directors also took issue, in passing, with the 5th Circuit’s statement that the monks’ caskets were less expensive than competitors’. The monks stipulated at trial that theirs were two to three times more expensive than similar caskets.
Bullock said, “What they were talking about there is whether you could get a wooden casket that was basically plywood at a funeral home for a cheaper amount. ... This is a handmade wooden casket and ... the prices are comparable to other monasteries that sell these type of caskets.”
The monks’ two models cost $1,500 with a flat lid and $2,000 for a coffin with a beveled lid and hand-carved wooden handles.
By continuing to fight this inconsequential battle, the state board of embalmers and funeral directors are continuing to give the state bad publicity nationwide, as well as damaging the free enterprise system in Louisiana. Let the monks sell their caskets.
This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.