Recently, I attended a beautiful Cajun funeral. The music during Mass was definitely Cajun, with fiddle and accordion players playing wonderfully. The casket was beautiful Louisiana bald cypress, hand crafted by the Benedictine monks of St. Joseph Abbey. I have written about these caskets and the controversy here. If you check out some of the linked articles below, you will see how beautiful the St. Joseph caskets are.
State law created a state board of funeral directors which regulate funerals. The board does very little other than “protecting consumers” from better products and low prices. The state gives its police power to this cartel of funeral directors. Restricting prices and competition, as this state board does, would be illegal under the Sherman Antitrust Act, the cornerstone of U.S. antitrust or anti-monopoly law. Supreme Court rulings on the Sherman Act state that such restrictions of trade are illegal per se, meaning there is no defense for such restrictions or conspiracies in restraint of trade, other than there was no conspiracy did not occur.
Louisiana’s Board of Funeral Directors issued an order that prevented the monks for selling their caskets in Louisiana, requiring that anyone selling a casket in Louisiana had to undergo training as funeral directors and to set up funeral homes in order to sell their inexpensive caskets to the public, keeping out the low-priced (and high-quality) competition. A libertarian legal group, the Institute of Justice, argued that the law served no legitimate purpose other than to enforce the funeral home cartel. After twice winning the right to sell their caskets before both District Federal Court and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, we see in this article by Sara Pagones in The Advocate that Louisiana’s funeral directors have decided to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
This case has seen national attention. For instance the libertarian blog, LewRockwell.com, published this article by Ryan McMaken last year. G. Jeffrey MacDonald wrote this piece for RNS, Religion News Service, this past March after the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on the case. The 5th Circuit’s opinion stated “Funeral homes, not independent sellers, have been the problem for consumers with their bundling of product and markups of caskets,” . . . “grant of an exclusive right of sale (for licensed funeral directors) adds nothing to protect consumers and puts them at a greater risk of abuse including exploitative prices.”
Doesn’t it seem just a bit ironic that the entrepreneurs in this case are the woodworking Benedictine monks, since the French word “entrepreneur” translates as “undertaker” or someone who undertakes ventures. On the other hand, isn’t it fitting that these monks are from St. Joseph Abbey, since St. Joseph himself was a carpenter, a woodworker.