Share/E-mail This Story

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.

Funeral Directors Want To Put Monks In Jail For Offering 'Unauthorized' Coffins

from the the-napster-of-coffins dept

Ah, regulatory capture. Down in Louisiana, there's a law that makes it a crime (yes, a crime) for anyone other than a funeral parlor to sell "funeral merchandise." This rule is enforced by the state's "funeral regulatory board," which (you guessed it) is mostly dominated by funeral parlor industry insiders. Now, a few years back, you may remember, there was a big Hurricane called Katrina. Among the massive damage done to the state of Louisiana, it also knocked down much of a large forest of pine trees on the property of the Benedictine monks at St. Joseph Abbey. With so many downed pine trees, the monks, in a lemons-into-lemonade type of moment, decided to use the downed trees to make hand-crafted caskets.

The funeral parlor directors were not amused, at this "unauthorized" competition -- and warned the monks that violating the laws against such unauthorized funeral merchandise could land you in jail for up to 180 days. Yes, the funeral directors were threatening a bunch of monks who were hand-crafting coffins out of pine trees knocked down by Hurricane Katrina with jailtime. After the threat, the monks continued to make caskets, but tried to keep the activity quiet -- and the funeral regulatory board literally sent out investigators to go spy on them to see if they were still selling caskets. After collecting evidence, they hit the monks with a subpoena, and are attempting to fine the monks for selling such caskets. In response, the monks are filing a federal lawsuit, claiming that they were being shut out of the market by a "casket cartel."

It's difficult not to see this as a clear case of regulatory capture. The Louisiana funeral regulatory board has nine members, eight of whom are in the funeral industry. There are even some funeral directors who are willing to admit that the whole thing looks bad, with one telling the Wall Street Journal that "They're making us all look greedy." As for the defense of the law? Well, the funeral directors who support such a restriction on free trade are really reaching:
Boyd Mothe Jr., a member of the fifth generation of his family to run Mothe Funeral Homes outside New Orleans, says Louisiana's law should remain on the books because licensed directors have the training to sell caskets--transactions he calls "complicated." For instance, he says, "a quarter of America is oversized. I don't even know if the monks know how to make an oversized casket."
Very convincing, huh?

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. icon
    Hulser (profile), 29 Sep 2010 @ 11:06am

    The lawyer or the client

    I've always wondered what happens behind the scenes in these types of situations...

    1) The lawyers tell their clients what an awful idea it would be to move ahead with a lawsuit because of the negative publicity, but the clients move ahead anyway.

    2) The lawyer doesn't warn their clients because he knows he'll make more money from the lawsuit in spite of the fact that there's a good possibility that the backlash could remove his client's monopoly.

    3) Or is it possible that both parties are so wrapped up in their greed, they actually don't realize that most people can see through their flimsy pretense and view what they're doing as wrong?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), 29 Sep 2010 @ 11:42am

    What kind of monks?

    I can't get to the WSJ article at work. Any word on what type of monks these are?

    Because if they're Jesuit monks, then God help that regulating committee....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    iamtheky (profile), 29 Sep 2010 @ 11:46am

    "Benedictine monks at St. Joseph Abbey"

    What type of monks could they be......

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2010 @ 11:53am

    Well, at least one of them is honest...

    "They're cutting into our profit," says Leonard Dunn, the owner of Serenity Funeral Home, located a short drive from the abbey.

    ...and has no problem admitting he is terrified of competition.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2010 @ 12:05pm

    I agree with the sentiments of your opinion, Mike.

    It's odd, though, seeing a reference to trees knocked down by a horrific natural disaster and then turned into caskets as being a "lemons-into-lemonade type of moment". More like a lemons-into-sliced lemons type of moment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Overcast (profile), 29 Sep 2010 @ 12:06pm

    Control, control, control, control.

    Are the Globalists really getting so fearful that they must 'control' everything?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), 29 Sep 2010 @ 12:09pm


    Facepalm! Wow that was dumb....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    DS, 29 Sep 2010 @ 12:10pm

    Re: What kind of monks?

    Well, they are not sexy monks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Benny6Toes (profile), 29 Sep 2010 @ 12:17pm

    Oversized coffins?

    really? how do you make an oversized coffin? ummmm...add 6"-16" width and reinforce the bottom. doesn't seem that difficult to me, but, y'know, i'm not an arrogant funeral director (i'm just arrogant...and mouthy). here's my idea for the best way to smack this down: the state attorney general discusses it with the monks and they all agree to go to trial. the catch? turn it into a media circus that results in extreme embarrassment for the funeral directors and any legislators who don't sign on to change the absurd law. nothing works better than embarrassing the crap out of people to institute change. and...Globalists? really? really? this is a local, homegrown issue. globalism and "globalists" have all of nothing to do with it. might want to cut back on reading all those conspiracy websites.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    bubba, 29 Sep 2010 @ 12:23pm

    dont sell them as caskets

    sell them as beds, or bookcases. though probably there is a law there you cant get buried in a bookcase.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    nsaamiller (profile), 29 Sep 2010 @ 12:28pm

    They're monks, they understand eternity

    My guess is that they will simply put them away until the current crop of funereal imbiciles die, and trot them out again. It's the nice thing about belonging to a religious order with 800 or so years of history behind it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), 29 Sep 2010 @ 12:32pm

    Re: dont sell them as caskets

    There would only be two markets for the hand carved casket shaped bookcase, but at least that's one more then the hand carved casket.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Jim C, 29 Sep 2010 @ 12:33pm

    most states

    Actually many states have similar laws. Funerals homes tend to be family ran empires. They do not want any competition that would cut into their profit margins. As most people don't feel comfortable talking about death, there is little discussion and they pretty much get what they ask for.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2010 @ 12:38pm

    Guilds all over again

    I thought the medieval practice of having guilds for everything had died out?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2010 @ 12:43pm

    kiss caskets are illegal haha


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    hmm, 29 Sep 2010 @ 12:44pm

    the letter of the law!

    The letter of the law says you can't SELL funeral merchandise.

    There is no law saying you can't sell someone a cuddle, and GIVE them the coffin for free because you're a nice monk....not one of those capitalist ones!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Beta (profile), 29 Sep 2010 @ 12:45pm

    Better watch out...

    All right you Benedictine monks, if you don't back off, you're looking at up to 180 in jail. That's right, up to 180 days in a plain cell, wearing simple clothing, eating simple food, with no entertainment except whatever books you want to bring with you and maybe some strolling in the yard in the afternoons. So... watch it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), 29 Sep 2010 @ 12:47pm

    Re: Better watch out...

    Well, there is the whole shower raping thing....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Montezuma (profile), 29 Sep 2010 @ 12:53pm

    In Georgia(the State I live in), we are not able to get coffins without going through a funeral home or a "casket store". Hell, even Walmart, now a days, sells coffins, but the citizens in Georgia(and other states) cannot obtain one. So many states seem to continue to force us(the general public) to incur cost that, otherwise, is not needed. It was said by some politician, somewhere around here, that the free selling of caskets could "promote the criminal element" and even promote murder. What sort of retarded shit is that?

    For as long as humans have existed, we have been dying and the final moments that loved ones have with the dead and the burial of the dead was not really complicated. A person died, the surviving family and/or friends might or might not have a wake/viewing, then the dead would be buried. There are still many families, that live around my second home, that still bury their dead family members on their own property(which might be going away soon enough), but even those people have to use a funeral home or casket store to obtain a casket.

    Apparently, even after a judge struck down the 1991 law on caskets, which opened up the casket market, in Georgia, to businesses other than funeral homes, Georgia just passed another law that requires stores that sell caskets to apply for a license to sell. Why does one need a license to sell a wooden box? Why does our Federal Government, as well as the various states, protect a market that openly takes advantage of those in a grieving state by marking up the products they sell by 200%, 300%, and higher?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2010 @ 12:53pm

    Re: Re: Better watch out...

    They are monks. Even evil has standards.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2010 @ 1:13pm

    Obviously for oversize people, you cut them in half and put them in two regular sized coffins.

    Seriously, they can't expect people to be so stupid as not to understand how to make things geometrically fit together.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    The Groove Tiger (profile), 29 Sep 2010 @ 1:57pm


    Or... a lemons-into-caskets-made-of-sliced-lemons moment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 29 Sep 2010 @ 1:57pm


    ..yeah! And even though some might ask "is it globalists, or just a greedy funeral industry at a regional, state-level?" But they'd be suckers.

    I'm with you. They're globalists out for one world government. Why? Becuase when something doesn't fit at all, it must be subterfuge.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    harbingerofdoom (profile), 29 Sep 2010 @ 2:04pm


    There are laws about this stuff because in the 50's and 60's shady practices were so out of control many states were pretty much forced to start adopting these laws.

    while the laws were actually a very good thing when they were originally passed, like always someone has to come along and try to use the laws to keep other people out of the business and shore up their own inability to run a business correctly themselves (or keep out someone threatening their profits).

    the laws actually arent a bad thing, they are just being used in a bad way in this case. monks, you should apply for a license and LA you should *make damn sure* it gets approved and then everyone can be either dead or happy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. icon
    Christopher (profile), 29 Sep 2010 @ 2:08pm

    Not very convincing at all

    The fact is that it is no harder to make an oversized coffin than a regular coffin. You just increase the dimensions of the coffin and build to those bigger dimensions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    Chargone (profile), 29 Sep 2010 @ 2:19pm


    true, though real world experience shows you can't afford to put TOO much faith in people Not to be too stupid to understand how to make things geometrically fit together, either.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    karen, 29 Sep 2010 @ 2:23pm

    Re: The lawyer or the client

    I have seen the latter case (in which the lawyer makes out like a bandit). In most cases,the most you can do is complain to the State Bar because the lawyer can compel you to prove that such a conversation was actually on the the record as "advice". Do NOT expect the people who DO actually bring successful actions to support you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Josef, 29 Sep 2010 @ 2:58pm

    Another WTF moment

    I guess I never really thought about it until now. Just WHY are there laws that prevent anyone from selling a casket? Saftey issues? Crime?

    I don't get it. Its a box, its going in the ground with a dead person inside. Who cares about faulty design? Why does the government even need to think about regulating this market?

    And why do I suddenly feel that "funeral merchandise" includes flowers as well, and that florists probably have to pay "funeral tax" to funeral homes so they can sell flowers for funerals.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. icon
    Jim D (profile), 29 Sep 2010 @ 4:40pm

    Perhaps not so cut & dry

    Certainly the funeral directors are trying to protect their turf-- it is an industry known for such things. I don't even doubt that this may be their only concern. However, that doesn't mean there isn't an actual issue of regulatory concern ensuring that the storage of dead bodies is done in containers that meet certain standards.

    Dead bodies are pumped with all sorts of chemicals. If the containers in which they are stored are not properly constructed and sealed then those chemicals will leach out into the soil. I'm not willing to assume, absent further details, that the monks in question built theirs to the proper spec.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Godric, 29 Sep 2010 @ 8:36pm

    Re: Perhaps not so cut & dry

    no, but chances are, they are of a far superior quality to those sold at the mom and pop funeral homes and are probably sold for a far smaller sum of money. That is probably the real issue.

    The funeral homes refuse to work for their pay. They just want everyone to come to them and hand them a shit ton of cash in a nice tidy bow and never have to lift a finger.

    I do have to say about the one funeral home I dealt with in GA, they did us a solid when our son was stillborn. They told us in the initial visit that it would be $100 for the cremation and the urn would be another $200. When we arrived to collect and pay the bill, they told us not to worry about it. Their only stipulation was to let others know about them. Which was fair enough to us.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Ryan Diederich, 29 Sep 2010 @ 10:26pm

    Not the Real Issue...

    How many caskets can a couple of monks and a couple of fallen trees make. People die constantly, dont you think the funeral people can lose a few caskets? What a joke. When I die I'm going to have my family burn my body and cast my ashes into the sea.

    Or find the nearest monks that will do it for me. Companies love to capitalize on things that HAVE to happen, like the RMV and death.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. icon
    Rikuo (profile), 29 Sep 2010 @ 11:44pm

    Re: Re: @24

    Didn't you read the full article? The funeral committee that decides who gets a licence to sell caskets, eight of their members are involved in the same business. Of course the monks should get a licences, but the committee isn't going to give it to them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. icon
    mike allen (profile), 29 Sep 2010 @ 11:52pm

    I would sooner buy from the monks they could bless the coffin can the casket makers do that no.
    they are not trained!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. icon
    harbingerofdoom (profile), 30 Sep 2010 @ 6:52am

    Re: Re: Re: @24

    yes, i did read the full article.
    did you read what i actually said?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2010 @ 7:18am

    "Ah, regulatory capture."

    Business models involving regulatory capture need to die already so that we can attend their funeral.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    todd, 30 Sep 2010 @ 9:22am

    Re: Perhaps not so cut & dry

    haha, coffins have drains to let out the body juices. What point is there to preserving a body?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. icon
    TtfnJohn (profile), 30 Sep 2010 @ 10:00am

    Re: Re:

    Benedictines have endless patience and they're known to have Jesuit buddy's down the road in that abby with a law office down the side for those who feel they need help with secular idiocy!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. icon
    btr1701 (profile), 30 Sep 2010 @ 12:13pm


    The screwing is even better in Texas. When someone dies, you'd think you could save some $$$ on the casket by going the cremation route. But the funeral home lobby managed to get a law passed in Texas that says you can't be cremated unless you're in a casket. So not only do you have to buy an unnecessary casket, the money you spent instantly goes up in smoke-- literally-- as you feed it into the furnace.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39. identicon
    Mark, 1 Oct 2010 @ 4:55am

    Re: Not very convincing at all

    Atually, making an oversized casket or coffin (really any, but oversized adds its own problems) is a tricky business.. Firstly, making sure it is sized internally to fit the deceased - that's pretty easy. Second, sized externally to allow transportation on a funeral vehicle to the cemetery or crematorium - not so easy, there are limits on door sizes, etc. and families get really pissy when you tell them it has to be moved on a truck! Third, reinforcing it - well you could say slap a few 2x4s across the bottom, but make sure you don't interfere with the internal sizing there and are you well versed in engineering to work out those stresses? Fourth, use the right materials - if it's being burned there are regulations on emissions which require that the right materials be used in the construction. Fifth, consider the external size for where it's going - cremator doors and internal sizes are limited, so make sure it fits or you'll be very red faced. Graves need to be shored up and there is a limit on with width of those shorings... Now lastly consider, once you've done all that, the weight of the casket and fitting handles that will take the weight and are correctly positioned for the pall bearers to use.

    Still think it's simple? Of course, you could just make a box and see what happens, but don't expect your local undertaker to carry it. It will be his name across the front of the local press when the deceased's ass falls through the bottom on the way to the grave!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40. identicon
    Ilfar, 1 Oct 2010 @ 6:08pm

    Re: Re:

    I remember the funeral home near the airport in Christchurch, NZ, started complaining that the cardboard 'caskets' being used for cremation were catching fire before they had a chance to seal the furnace...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41. icon
    Eaton Kittrell (profile), 11 Jan 2011 @ 1:52pm

    Louisiana funeral indusrty

    For the monks to get a license, they must install an embalming room, and have a licensed funeral director on site to sell the merchandise. A licensee must serve an internship for 2 years as a full time employee of a licensed funeral home before eligible to take the exam. All to sell a box.

    What actually happened here in LA began in the 1970's when wording was struck from statute which allowed for "funeral director or individual acting as such" and the phrase added, "all dead bodies shall be prepared and disposed of by a licensed funeral director".

    Soon thereafter, more wording appeared-"only a licensed funeral home may display and sell funeral merchandise at retail" Over the years, the right to bath, cloth, casket and bury your loved one has been eroded to the extent that every consumer in the state of LA must present himself, checkbook in hand to a licensee of the state and be compelled to contractually surrender ownership of personal property(your loved ones remains)to the funeral home.

    The only stipulation regarding burial is that commercial cemeteries may require a liner or vault to prevent someone from falling thru a decomposed casket and suing. Also, a proscribed distance from a stream or body of water. Otherwise you can be buried directly in the ground, with no embalming, in a shroud or less, if desired.

    Boyd Motte kept a particleboard, flat-top, cloth-covered casket in a side room and would drag it out by its screen door handles and present it to insurance policy holders and claim that it was the casket that went with the policy. When the poor bereaved asked to upgrade the casket, this slimeball funeral pig would VOID the contract and credit them a few hundred dollars toward a full price funeral of thousands.

    If you can stand to here more about the death grip of the funeral industry in LA, prompt me. I can go on and on!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2011 @ 8:09pm

    Re: Re: Not very convincing at all

    You are really stupid

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Show Now: Takedown
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.