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U.S. District Court Rules in Favor of Louisiana Monks’ Unlicensed Casket Sales

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State Board now faces direct Institute for Justice challenge to economic protectionism

NEW ORLEANS, La. – Yesterday, the monks of 121-year-old St. Joseph Abbey advanced in their legal battle with the Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. In August, the monks sued over alleged cartel protectionism against their casket production, and the local U.S. District Court has denied the Board’s motion to dismiss.

The ruling concluded that Louisiana’s laws “in essence bar all competition from outside of the ‘funeral directors’ enclave for the sale of caskets.” (Read the full decision.)

A legal team from the Institute for Justice – a libertarian public interest law firm – is now preparing to represent the Abbey in what they describe as a landmark trial on June 6, 2011. They will present evidence in the U.S. Eastern District of Louisiana Court that economic protectionism is the only basis for restricting casket sales to state-licensed funeral directors.

Previous federal courts have ruled that pure economic protectionism, which limits commerce to a politically connected industry group, is unconstitutional. IJ attorneys also gain confidence from the fact that Judge Stanwood Duval Jr., presiding over the St. Joseph Abbey v. Castille case, has already acknowledged the anti-protectionist precedent.

“This ruling is a vindication of what we have been saying all along:  Economic liberty is for everyone, including the monks of the Abbey,” said Abbot Justin Brown, the IJ client.

Michael Rasch, attorney for the Board, said at this time he could not comment on the defense’s arguments.

Without funding from the Catholic Church, the Abbey’s 36 monks began selling coffins in 2007 to support their activities. Prior to 2007, they had been making them for more than a hundred years, but outside individuals had expressed interest in purchasing them as well. However, they received threats of fines for trading caskets without a funeral director’s license. The state then denied requests for an exemption in 2008 and 2010.

In Louisiana, to gain a funeral director’s license, state law requires a one-year apprenticeship, presiding over 25 funerals, and thirty hours of college training. Then the application fee for a funeral business is $1,500. Abbey members do not agree to this process, nor do they plan to participate.

Fergus Hodgson is the capitol bureau reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy and editor of The Pelican Post. He can be contacted at fhodgson@pelicaninstitute.org, and one can follow him on twitter.
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