Louisiana Caskets - Release 4-11-11

Free the Monks:  Federal Court Denies Motion to Dismiss Casket Case 

Rejects Economic Protectionism as a Legitimate State Interest 


WEB RELEASE: April 11, 2011
Shira Rawlinson
(703) 682-9320

[Economic Liberty]



IJ client Abbot Brown.


Arlington, Va.—Today, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana denied the Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Director’s motion to dismiss St. Joseph Abbey’s challenge to its casket law and ruled that protecting a politically connected industry group from economic competition is not a legitimate state interest.

This ruling by Judge Stanwood R. Duval, Jr. of the Eastern District of Louisiana in St. Joseph Abbey v. Castille is part of the landmark legal challenge filed in August 2010 by Saint Joseph Abbey and the Institute for Justice.  The Abbey wants to sell its handmade wooden caskets to the public, but Louisiana law allows only state-licensed funeral directors to sell caskets.  The monks contend that the only purpose of the law is to protect funeral directors from competition.

“The Court recognized there is a major dispute among the courts—one that the U.S. Supreme Court may have to resolve—about whether the Constitution allows the government to restrict economic liberty to benefit industry groups, such as funeral directors, while offering no benefit to the public,” said IJ Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes and co-counsel on the case.  “Judge Duval rightly sided with the majority of courts, which say that government power is for public, not private, purposes.”

The Court emphasized that “[p]urely private interest legislation does not protect the general welfare; it treats one group of people differently from another group because of a raw exercise of political power.”

In its ruling, the court recognized the onerous burdens that Louisiana’s Embalming and Funeral Directors Act would impose on the monks of Saint Joseph Abbey.  Concluding that Louisiana’s laws “in essence bar all competition from outside of the ‘funeral directors’ enclave for the sale of caskets,” the court denied the State Board’s motion to dismiss the complaint.


“This ruling is a vindication of what we have been saying all along:  Economic liberty is for everyone, including the monks of the Abbey,” stated IJ client Abbot Justin Brown.

This ruling sets up the June 6, 2011 trial in which the Abbey will present evidence proving that there is no basis for restricting casket sales to state-licensed funeral directors, other than economic protectionism, which the Court has now ruled unconstitutional.

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