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It's Illegal for Monks to Sell Caskets In Louisiana

It's Illegal for Monks to Sell Caskets In Louisiana
Photograph by David Moore/Gallery Stock

The monks just want to sell caskets. That’s the simple plea of a relatively simple case, in which a Louisiana monastery—St. Joseph Abbey, about an hour outside New Orleans—is suing the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors for the right to sell their handmade wooden caskets. Only licensed funeral establishments can sell caskets in Louisiana, which means that St. Joseph’s monks would have to hire a funeral director, install embalming equipment, and construct a funeral parlor even though they have no plans to embalm the deceased or perform actual funerals. “They would have to take an exam about the whole panoply of funeral directing,” says Scott Bullock, an attorney with Institute for Justice, which is representing the monks. “It’s like telling someone who sells shoes that they have to first become a podiatrist.”

St. Joseph Abbey, founded in 1889 as part of the Order of Saint Benedict, has been producing caskets for as long as its monks can remember, but until recently, they were only used for the private burials of their own members. In the 1990s they built a few coffins for the funerals of local bishops and the Catholic community began to take notice. “People would come to our funerals and see them and ask if we could make one for a family member,” says Abbot Justin Brown, “but we couldn’t do it because we didn’t have the wherewithal to construct them on a larger scale.”