On the Front Lines of the Culture Wars

On the Front Lines of the Culture Wars

Why won’t Louisiana let monks build caskets?

Father Justin Brown and the coffin-making monks


Is the state of Louisiana protecting the public? Or the funeral industry?

On Monday, wearing his monk’s robe, Abbot Justin Brown of St. Joseph’s monastery near Covington, Louisiana, told U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duvan that his monks only want to make affordable coffins for the cash-strapped public. He said the only people who ever have opposed the abbey’s efforts to provide affordable, handmade caskets are funeral insiders who stand to lose their statewide monopoly — and thousands of dollars in profit.


“To my knowledge, no one objected besides them,” Brown told the judge.

The Benedictine monks have tried and failed to convince Louisiana legislators to amend a state statute that prohibits casket sales by non-licensed funeral directors.

“Monday’s federal trial,” reports the Religious News Service, “served as a challenge to that law, which imposes thousands of dollars in fines, and up to 180 days in prison, for anyone who sells coffins without first paying fees and obtaining a license from the Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors.”

Pallbearers carry out one of the monks' plain cypress caskets


The monks’ unpaid attorneys argued that the law amounts to unconstitutional economic protectionism.

St. Joseph’s opened a woodshop in 2007 to sell handcrafted cypress caskets for $1,500 to $2,000, which is far cheaper than many caskets from a typical funeral home. They hoped the sales would finance medical and educational needs for more than 30 monks.

The state Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors issued a cease-and-desist letter — and hired a detective who caught the abbots in the act. He took pictures of them loading a coffin into a pickup truck.

“You simply want to sell caskets, is that correct?” the abbey’s attorney Scott Bullock asked the monastery’s woodshop director, monk Mark Coudrain, at one point.


“That is correct,” Coudrain replied.

The funeral directors say they are in the best position to help customers select appropriate caskets because they are trained to consider issues such as the deceased’s body size and burial site.

Billy Henry, the general manager of Tharp-Sontheimer funeral home in Metairie, Louisiana, said grieving customers who deal with licensed professionals don’t have to face the possibility of a casket that’s too small — which can delay a funeral unnecessarily.

Monks inspect a finished coffin


However, some local morticians are mortified by all the fuss, according to the Wall Street Journal. Darin Bordelon, the owner of LaVille Funeral Home in Ville Platte, Louisiana, says the state board should be ashamed of its campaign against the monks.

“They’re making us all look greedy,” he told the Journal.

The judge asked both sides to file legal briefs by June 24, with a response from both sides by July 1.

Some time after that, the judge will either strike down or uphold the law.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cx

    I’m surprised you even feel the need to ask such a question.

    Conservative lawmakers (yes, that includes numerous conservative Democrats) don’t protect the public, they protect the special citizens also known as corporate interests.

    And that’s all this is. The self-serving claims made by the casket-selling group should be much more than sufficient to convince even a reasonable conservative that this is about profits, not humans.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Melba Diaz

    Good grief let the Monks sell their nicely made caskets. The caskets made by the Monks are probably much better
    quality than the ones sold at funeral homes, and more cost effective.

    God Bless All I am praying that the Monks get to continue making caskets and sell them.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment ichthusthree

    as was said long ago (1800s) by author Honore’ de Balzac
    “Laws are spider webs through which the bigs flies pass and the little ones get caught.”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment kenneth

    Funny how the “free market” conservatives show their true colors when push comes to shove. They want a nanny welfare state too, just one that caters to the wealthy and incorporated.

  • Gene Semple

    God Bless the Monks. Yes, this is a greed issue.Being that this is happening in Louisiana is no suprise. It’s a well known fact that Louisiana is one of the most corrupt states in the Union. No doubt there are people in unwarranted high positions who will have free coffins when there time comes.There are ways to continue their coffin craftsmanship, which we will speak to them about. Katrina. Do I need to say more.Hang in there Brothers, our Lord will findd a way!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Pastor Randy

    As one who has experienced the hospitality of the monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey, I wish them the best in their case. Personally, I have already inquired about coffins made by a Cistercian monastery in Kansas that can be ordered on-line. This is an absurd over-reach by a state licensing agency more interested in protecting the industry than the people. Monks have been making coffins for their own confreres for centuries. I suspect they are better at it than any of the licensed casket makers.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment g

    And the thing about the Monk’s caskets is they have a quick release ejection button to the corpse can get out of the coffin 23% faster than corpses in non-equipped caskets. The advantage of this is that at the resurrection, the corpses in the Monk’s casket will be out and eating at the marriage supper a full day earlier than those corpse trying to remove the nails, and many of those are without tools!!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ron B.

    @ck & @kenneth :

    Where in the article is _any_ reference made to conservatives, liberals, or any political persuasion?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Augustine Hourigan

    In business there is always competition!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Abambagibus

    Clad in the guise of propriety for goodness’ sake, the funeral industry caters to hominids attracted to propriety, … hominids whose superior monetary fitness in the struggle for survival over others comfortably enables them to be most ‘properly’ entombed, … hominids whose kind façades for goodness’ sake belies their fundamental arrogance over those who cannot afford it. Which reminds me of a certain Dickensian character whose superfluously surviving descendants have made goodness’ sake a ploy for the sake of all that’s bad in the interpersonally loving society of our illusions. Interpersonal love has nothing to do with it. Neither does Faith in the Transcendent. Neither does religion. And, as for Christ who catered to poor, He needed a wealthy patron to properly entomb Him. Scilicet Ab Ambagibus.

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