Monks vs. Mammon
Last year, when I went with my brother-in-law the day after my sister died, to pick out her casket, I was shocked to discover how expensive caskets are. The cheapest thing they had cost something like $5,000 — this for a box that was going to be put into the ground a few days hence. It was positively Pharaonic. If you’ll pardon the awful pun, somebody is making a killing off the casket trade.
Comes a group of Benedictine monks from an abbey north of New Orleans, who thought they might help support themselves by making caskets. Turns out it’s against Louisiana state law to buy caskets from in-state casket makers — and state legislators refused to change the
protection racket law. So the Benedictines sued:
The monks won round one in July, when U.S. District Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. ruled Louisiana’s restrictions unconstitutional, saying “the sole reason for these laws is the economic protection of the funeral industry.”
The Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, which has argued that the law protects consumers, has appealed, and the circuit court in New Orleans will hear the case in early June.
The monks are represented by the Arlington County-based Institute for Justice, which has a knack for picking empathetic, working-class parties — hair braiders, flower arrangers, city tour guides — to personify what it says is its battle against government regulation that strangles free enterprise.
The group is on a constant watch to find the perfect case to challenge a series of economic regulation decisions nearly unbroken since the New Deal. Courts must find only that there is a “rational basis” for an act, the most accommodating standard for government action.
It’s hard to get much more sympathetic than monks who are fighting an industry that takes advantage of its state-sanctioned monopoly to wring far more money than they ought to out of grieving families. The monks’ caskets retail for less than half the cost of funeral-parlor retail:
There are two versions, a monastic style with metal handles that sells for $1,500 and a traditional version with wooden rail handles for $2,000. In a nod to modernity, they can be modified for the oversized. Each is blessed and, an in attempt to create the abbey’s signature, marked with a medal of Saint Benedict.
“Noble simplicity,” Brown said. “It’s simple, but it’s not cheap.”
Next time one of us dies around here, I’ll get my friends in Mississippi to drive to the abbey, buy a God box, and bring it to me. Unless justice prevails in the courthouse, that is. Go, monks, go!