The Monks Get Their Day in Court!

On June 6, the brothers of Saint Joseph Abbey in Covington, La., and IJ attorneys went to trial in federal court in New Orleans to vindicate the right to earn an honest living. The monks want to sell their handmade caskets to the public, but Louisiana allows only state-licensed funeral directors to sell caskets. In 2008 and 2010, the Abbey petitioned the legislature to reform the law, but the monks were twice thwarted by the funeral-director lobby, which mobilized to protect its lucrative monopoly.

The Abbey and IJ brought suit last summer to defend the economic liberty of entrepreneurs everywhere. This case has tremendous potential because there is disagreement among federal courts of appeal over the major issue at stake: May the government restrict economic liberty just to benefit industry insiders such as licensed funeral directors? Because the U.S. Supreme Court’s main job is to resolve these sorts of disagreements, the Abbey’s case is an ideal vehicle for taking the right to earn an honest living to the highest court in the land.

Our clients were front and center during the trial. Abbot Justin Brown—robed in his monastic habit—and Deacon Mark Coudrain took the stand to explain to the judge that selling Abbey caskets poses no danger to the public. For its part, the state of Louisiana argued that consumers, because they may be bereaved, cannot be trusted with the freedom to buy a casket without a government-licensed babysitter, i.e., a funeral director.

We expect to report a decision in the next issue of Liberty & Law.

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