Sunday, September 29, 2013

Holy Casket Makers!

Wood coffin made at Saint Joseph Abbey.
The 37 monks at Saint Joseph Abbey near Covington, Louisiana support their monastery by selling simple handmade wooden caskets.  The relatively modest coffins sell for $1,500 to $2,000 -- far less than the typical burial casket with all the trimmings offered on the funeral director's sales floor.

The state's funeral directors believed they had a lock on the sale of coffins, caskets and other trappings of burial.  The Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors tried to shut down coffin making and selling at the monastery, citing a state regulation crafted to benefit the funeral directors and embalmers, that the casket market is only open to licensed funeral directors. 

The monks enlisted the help of the Institute for Justice to initiate a legal action to repudiate the state-wide grip the funeral managers had on all funeral-related business.

"The great deference due state economic regulation does not demand judicial blindness to the history of a challenged rule ... nor does it require courts to accept nonsensical explanations for naked transfers of wealth," Circuit Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham wrote, referring to the long sweet deal the funeral directors held over all aspects of funeral services and equipment in Louisiana. 

As of March, 2013, the monks can make 
Saint Joseph Abbey monks at work.

and sell the wooden coffins and the funeral directors can't stop them.  As reported in Religion, the  Appeal in the U.S. Fifth Circuit came out on the side of consumers and the monastery-based small business: "Funeral homes, not independent sellers, have been the problem for consumers with their bundling of product and markups of caskets. The “grant of an exclusive right of sale (for licensed funeral directors) adds nothing to protect consumers and puts them at a greater risk of abuse including exploitative prices.”

The "coffin cartel" --as one blogger put it-- funeral directors aren't going to let their cash cow go easily. In July, 2013, the Times-Picayune reports, the Louisiana embalmers and funeral directors petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn federal district and appeals court rulings in favor of the monks' right to free enterprise, the making and selling of wood caskets.


Barnes, Robert. A victory for monks in fight over caskets. The Washington Post, October 25, 2012, p. A3.

Sullivan, Laura (host). Louisiana Abbey Finally Able to Sell its Caskets. All Things Considered. National Public Radio, March 31, 2013.

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