Support the Café

Search our Site

Louisiana Benedictines allowed to sell caskets

Louisiana Benedictines allowed to sell caskets

A Federal judge today overturned a Louisiana state law that required a funeral parlor license to sell “funeral merchandise”.



.. on the bayou, the St. Joseph Abbey in Covington, La., ran up against the state’s funeral industry.

After Hurricane Katrina felled much of the pine forest they once harvested for timber and revenue, they built a woodshop and began hand-crafting and selling simple caskets to the public. The Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, a state regulatory board dominated by funeral-industry members, began enforcing a Louisiana law that forbids anyone but a licensed parlor to sell “funeral merchandise.” They threatened the monks with thousands in fines and even jail time.

The board argued that the regulation of casket sales protects consumers and guarantees certain standards.

In a ruling Thursday, a federal judge disagreed. The “only people being protected are the funeral directors of Louisiana and their coffers,” wrote Judge Stanwood R. Duval, of the U.S. District Court in New Orleans. The monks had filed the federal lawsuit last August, arguing that the state was violating their gainful right to earn a living. They cited Louisiana’s “casket cartel” and said they had only sold 60 caskets, hardly making them a threat.

Judge Duval wrote that Louisiana’s requirement that anyone who wants to sell caskets secure certain training and licenses is irrational given that the state’s residents are free to order caskets over the Internet. “Any Louisianan can purchase a casket on-line without the ‘aid’ of a funeral director,” the judge wrote.

The CEO of now-bankrupt Borders Books could not be reached for comment.

Addendum. The Atlantic has an excellent article on the case. An excerpt:

A start-up was encroaching on the local monopoly funeral homes had on burial boxes, which were sometimes being sold at four times the wholesale price! The monks threatened those margins. And soon, they received a warning letter from the Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, informing them that they were in violation a regulation they’d never before encountered. It stated that only state-licensed funeral directors may engage in the retail sale of caskets.

Getting licensed as a funeral director is neither easy nor compatible with monastic life, as the monks would soon discover. Applicants must have a high school diploma, earn 30 hours of college credit, and apprentice full time in the industry for one year, learning how to handle and embalm dead bodies. As a requirement for building a rectangular box with a lid, affixing handles, and selling it without even seeing a dead body, that struck the monks as excessive. And even if they met those burdens, they’d have to convert their monastery into a “funeral establishment,” a designation that would require a layout parlor for 30 people, a display room for six caskets, and body embalming equipment, among other things.

Had building and selling wooden boxes ever been so onerous?

Challenging the law would be tough too.

In order to prevail, the monks would have to prove Louisiana’s regulation failed to meet a level of scrutiny that is most favorable to the government. In other words, if the state had any “rational basis” for requiring casket entrepreneurs to meet the standards of funeral home directors — if doing so might even plausibly benefit consumers or safeguard public health — the law would be upheld.


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
C. Wingate

Their website shows that they are Roman Catholic, sorry.

Matthew Buterbaugh+

“What are you in for?”

“Armed robbery. You?”

“Casket building and praying 5 times a day.”

I’m so glad there are sensible judges out there.


“St. Joseph Abbey in Covington, La”

These are Episcopal Benedictines, I think?

[Yes, yes: I know that Benedictines often think of themselves as “Benedictine” first, and their denomination, second. But being that there are comparatively so fewer Episcopal Benedictines, I do like to see them get their props, when in the news!]

God bless the St Joseph Covington Benedictines, in their new(ly legal) “labora”.

JC Fisher

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café