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Monks fight for right to make & sell coffins in Louisiana

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

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A win for David over Goliath! The Benedictine Monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey on the North Shore have finally won the last battle in their fight to make and sell plain, pine coffins!

The Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors fought the monks hammer and nail for five years to make them stop, basically because the simple pine coffins are so much cheaper than the fancy funeral home versions.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to overturn a lower court ruling, meaning that the monks do not have to have a funeral director’s license to sell their caskets to the public.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower judge’s ruling Wednesday.

It allows North Shore monks to sell caskets from their monastery.

The state board of funeral directors tried to argue only state licensed funeral directors can legally sell caskets in Louisiana.

All three judges on the appeals panel sided with the monks.

captureI was shocked to learn that when someone dies and wants to be buried in a coffin in Louisiana there is only one group of people you can buy that coffin from: members of the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors.

You see, only this group has the expertise to sell you a wooden box. This allows the funeral industry to not only have a monopoly on the sales of caskets, but also gives them the incentive to sell them at escalated prices.

Only in Louisiana. We love making things tough for the masses while a select few profit. The sad part is, the funeral directors are taking advantage of folks at their weakest time, when a loved has passed. And they feel justified doing it because it’s the law.  So sad.

Thank goodness for the monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey near Covington. They build very nice coffins and want the right to sell them in Louisiana.  They’ve gone to court to ensure their rights.

The problem with the monks? They build a very nice coffin for under $1,000! Now who can profit on that? Not the funeral directors.

captureA federal judge has ruled a group of Covington monks can sell their handmade coffins in Louisiana.

The monks went to court to challenge a state law that limited the sale of caskets to licensed funeral directors and funeral homes.

In the ruling, the judge said the law is unconstitutional and violates due process and equal protection laws.


Monks challenge Louisiana in federal court

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.

captureAn order of Benedictine monks sued Louisiana regulators Thursday for blocking them from selling handmade caskets because the monks are not licensed funeral directors.

The monks of the 121-year-old St. Joseph Abbey, in St. Tammany Parish north of New Orleans, charge the state Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors is attempting to maintain a casket cartel, and that board members are mostly engaged in industry they regulate.

They claim the regulations are unconstitutional.

The monks planned to sell their wooden caskets for $1,500 or $2,000 to support the abbey.

They tried to get an exemption from the regulations in 2008 and 2010, but legislators rejected the requests.

A lawyer for the embalmers board could not immediately be reached for comment.