Louisiana Monks Win Round In Casket Battle

In a sometimes harshly worded ruling, a federal appeals court has smacked down the Louisiana funeral board’s continued attempts to prevent a group of monks from St. Joseph Abbey from selling their hand-crafted caskets.

The appellate judges sent the case to the Louisiana Supreme Court, refusing to consider the funeral board’s appeal of a lower court ruling that said it was unconstitutional for the state to give funeral directors exclusive rights to sell caskets.

After Hurricane Katrina destroyed the abbey’s timberland outside Covington, La., a longtime a source of revenue, the monks decided to sell their handmade caskets as a way to supplement their income. The abbey invested $200,000 in St. Joseph Woodworks and sold two types of caskets, “monastic” and “traditional,” priced at $1,500 and $2,000 respectively.

“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 appeals court ruled Oct. 23.

The monks did not offer funeral services, prepare the body for burial or participate in funerals, except as pastors. 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. (Religion News Service)