Expel These Vultures

If a buzzard were to fly about three miles to the southwest from my home in rural St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, he would come to St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary College, a monastery and seminary maintained by Benedictine monks. When he arrived, however, he would find other vultures already hovering over the abbey.

These vultures are funeral directors whose cartel privileges are legally enforced by the Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, one of the countless predatory bodies the state legislatures have seen fit to create during the past century and a half in order to protect unscrupulous sellers from honest competition and, along the way, to grease the palms of the co-conspiring politicos, all at the expense of consumers.

A few years ago, seeking a new means of supporting the abbey and themselves, the monks began to produce and sell simple yet entirely serviceable wooden caskets. Where’s the crime in their doing so? Well, some people are willing to take any despicable action whatsoever to suppress competing sellers. One such despicable party was Boyd L. Mothe, Jr., vice president of Mothe Funeral Homes, who brought a formal complaint against the abbey’s casket sales in 2008, based on the state’s restriction of the trade.

On Monday, June 6, a trial will take place in U.S. District Court in regard to the abbey’s plea for declaratory and injunctive relief from the state’s enforcement of its law that only licensed funeral directors may sell “funeral merchandise.” The monks are being represented pro bono by the Institute for Justice.

Let us pray that the court sees fit—if only to do something out of the ordinary—to reach a just decision in this case. The monks surely deserve relief from the menacing presence of the vultures hovering over their beautiful monastery.

Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Editor at Large of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
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