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Monks Win Another Round In Coffin Fight

NEW ORLEANS (UPI) — A federal appeals court has ruled Louisiana monks can sell handcrafted coffins, finding that a state regulation aims only to restrict competition.

In a unanimous decision late Tuesday, a three-judge panel ruled in favor of St. Joseph Abbey near Covington, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported. The abbey has been fighting a cease-and-desist order from the Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors for about two years.

“The great deference due state economic regulation (does not require) courts to accept nonsensical explanations for naked transfers of wealth,” the judges of the 5th U.S. Circuit wrote in their decision. “We insist that Louisiana’s rules not be irrational.”

The judges said Louisiana residents are free to buy caskets and coffins on the Internet and that state law does not actually require burial in a container. Therefore, the regulation requiring all in-state purchases of coffins to be from licensed funeral directors has one purpose, protecting their economic interests.

After the abbey’s woodlands, which had been a major source of income, were devastated by Hurricane Katrina, the monks invested $200,000 in starting St. Joseph’s Woodworks. They offered a “monastic” coffin for $1,500 and a “traditional” model for $2,000, considerably less than funeral homes were charging.

A U.S. District Court also ruled against the state board.

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