We proposed a traditional Jewish casket, which is often more simply made and, not incidentally, much less expensive. A kindly reader steered us toward the world of caskets manufactured by monks, several of which are comparably modest (here, here, here). We were impressed.
We were also impressed by the subtext of the discussion, which is that, despite its wicked history, the funeral industry has taken many steps toward honesty and transparency, among which is the comparatively recent phenomenon of price-shopping for caskets. Used to be that they came as part of the package, and could only be purchased from the funeral home -- which was free to jack its rates up as high as it wanted. Laws which created a more of less free market were understandably unpopular with the funeral directors, but a smash success otherwise. They added a dose of competition to the business, and established a new niche for any number of small businesses, ranging from CasketXpress to the good brothers.
Except, of course, in Louisiana.
There, per Fox News, the Benedictine brothers of St. Joseph Abbey, in Tammany Parish, have recently filed suit against the state regulators, asking for the right to continue selling the caskets that they make (some, incidentally, with wood salvaged after Hurricane Katrina).
The Fox story is brief and well-written, so we won't repeat everything. (But more detail here). The bottom line is that the regulations only permit funeral homes to sell or store caskets. The monks aren't licensed funeral directors, and don't want to be. The board that oversees the funeral homes consists of four embalmers, four funeral directors, and "a citizen member at least 60 years old."
The attorney for the abbey says that the board's goal is "to protect the profits of a powerful industry." This is obviously true. The board's attorney says it is "simply enforcing the law that's passed by the Louisiana legislature." This may very well also be true. If so, it's lousy law. It is a lousy law because it creates a monopoly where none needs to exist. It hurts small businesses and prevents entrepreneurship. In this particular case, it also restricts the ability of the Benedictines to pursue their monastic vocation, which includes self-support. (Ora et labora, and all that).
We urge our, ahem, many Louisiana readers to exercise their constitutional right to petition the government. Free the monks!