The Monks, the Louisiana Law & the FTC

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The Benedictine monks of St. Joseph Abbey, the Louisiana Embalming and Funeral Directors Act, and the policy goals of the FTC’s Funeral Rule. Not a likely trifecta, but an amicus brief filed by the FTC in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit raises interesting issues about the relationship between the three.

For generations, the Benedictine monks of St. Joseph Abbey have built simple wooden caskets to bury monks who have died. Interest in their handmade caskets grew and the Abbey established Saint Joseph Woodworks to sell the caskets and generate revenue.

But under the Louisiana law, only state-licensed funeral directors may engage in the retail sale of caskets in Louisiana and only at state-licensed funeral establishments. To sell caskets in Louisiana without violating the state law, the Abbey would have to become a licensed funeral establishment. What would that require? Among other things, the monks would have to employ a full-time, state-licensed funeral director and install embalming facilities, even though they just want to sell the caskets. The monks are now challenging the state statute as unconstitutional.

The FTC’s brief doesn’t take a position on the constitutionality of the Louisiana law, but says that the restraints on third-party casket sales are at odds with the policy goals of the FTC’s Funeral Rule. According to the brief, restraints on casket sales by independent retailers — like the Act’s licensing requirements — “do not further the purposes of the Funeral Rule. On the contrary, they insulate funeral directors from the very competition that the Rule seeks to promote.”

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