Ruling a victory for monks, brings end to 'casket cartel,' says lawyer
Published: October 25, 2012
NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- A federal appeals court ruling in favor of Benedictine monks who had been blocked from selling their handmade caskets by Louisiana's state funeral board "is a victory for the monks as well as for free enterprise and entrepreneurs" in the state, their lawyer said. "And it puts a nail in the coffin of the casket cartel," said Darpana Sheth, an attorney with the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice, which represented the monks pro bono in the case. In a unanimous opinion, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Oct. 24 that a five-year battle by the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors to stop the Benedictine monks of St. Joseph Abbey in St. Benedict, La., from selling handmade, cypress caskets was either unconstitutional or unauthorized by Louisiana law. The only question remaining to be determined by the three-judge appeals court panel was a legal technicality, Sheth told the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the New Orleans Archdiocese. The 5th Circuit asked the Louisiana Supreme Court to determine by January if state law authorized the state funeral board to regulate casket sales. The law requires any business selling caskets in Louisiana to be a licensed funeral home that employs a funeral director and has a casket showroom. The monks twice had gone to the Louisiana Legislature to amend the law, but those bills never got out of committee, so they filed a lawsuit in 2010. "The court, out of an abundance of caution, wanted to make sure before it rules on constitutional grounds that the state board could even regulate the sale of caskets when that's all someone (such as the monks) does," Sheth said. "In its opinion, the 5th Circuit said very strongly they can't find any reason to uphold the constitutionality of the law. The court rejected all the arguments put forward by the state board in support of constitutionality." Said Benedictine Abbot Justin Brown: "It's a win-win for us, as well as an answer to our prayers. It also confirms the feelings we've had all along that this was the right thing to do. We had a right to sell our caskets, and the courts are upholding that right."
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