Monks challenge Louisiana in federal court

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captureThey’re a group known for their simplistic, peaceful lifestyle, yet today they were at federal court taking on the state. WGNO’s Vanessa Bolano has been following this one for months.

The fate of the St Joseph Abbey Woodworks now lies in the hands of a New Orleans Federal Judge.

Since 2007, Benedictine Monks, like Brother Emmanuel Labrise, have been crafting caskets in St Tammany Parish, but this morning they were in federal court downtown standing behind those defending their job.

“We have as much right to sell our caskets in the state as anybody who sells caskets anywhere,” says Brother Labrise.

The monks are suing the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors who say in Louisiana only licensed funeral homes can sell caskets.

“This case is not about just the monks. We looked at the case as being a constitutional issue and the state board is charged with enforcing state law,” says defense attorney Preston Hayes with Chehardy Sherman.

Attorneys representing the monks call the law irrational, unconstitutional, and say prohibits them from earning a living.

“Consumers throughout the country have the ability to buy caskets from funeral directors, on the internet, at churches or monasteries, even from big box retail stores,” says Attorney Scott Bullock with the Institute for Justice, “There is one state that denies consumers this opportunity, and that is the state of Louisiana.”

“Since sales are available all over the country, third party casket sales, we don’t feel like we are that unique in Louisiana not to allow it here also,” says Abbot Justin Brown.

The trial ended earlier than anticipated just before lunch time. The monks say they’ll be back tomorrow to pick up caskets they left inside the courtroom; caskets they say that help pay for their health and educational needs.

Judge Stanwood Duval ordered both sides to file written briefs. A decision is expected as early as next month.