By all accounts, these are high-quality caskets, but they sell for far less than many models on the showroom floors of funeral parlors. And that infuriated Louisiana’s funeral industry.
“In response, the Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors sent the monks a cease-and-desist letter, threatening thousands of dollars in fines and up to 180 days in prison based on a law prohibiting the sale of coffins without a funeral director’s license,” the Religious News Service reports.
The monks challenged the law.
A lower court ruled in 2011 that licensing laws, such as the one cited by the funeral directors, serve no legitimate purpose
“Simply put, there is nothing in the licensing procedures that bestows any benefit to the public in the context of the retail sale of caskets,” U.S. District Court Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. ruled. “The license has no bearing on the manufacturing and sale of coffins. It appears that the sole reason for these laws is the economic protection of the funeral industry.
And that, he said, is not “a valid government interest.”
“To be sure, Louisiana does not regulate the use of a casket, container, or other enclosure for the burial remains; has no requirements for the construction or design of caskets; and does not require that caskets be sealed,” the Fifth Circuit ruled. “Individuals may construct their own caskets for funerals in Louisiana or purchase caskets from out-of-state suppliers via the internet. Indeed, no Louisiana law even requires a person to be buried in a casket.”
The licensing law was absurd on its face, the court added.
“The great deference due state economic regulation (does not require) courts to accept nonsensical explanations for naked transfers of wealth,” the opinion said. “We insist that Louisiana’s rules not be irrational.”
A similar victory was won by a Utah woman in August, when a court there ruled she could braid hair, without a cosmetology license. The state had argued she needed the license (hundreds of hours of courses and thousands of dollars of fees), but state attorneys had to acknowledge that the state’s cosmetology curriculum doesn’t actually cover hair-braiding.
Laws that require licensing of businesses are often passed at the request of established industry groups. It’s not about protecting the public, it’s about protecting turf.
And that’s anything but a higher calling.