Covering Louisiana

Jun 8, 2012 12:46 PM by AP

Appeals court hears caskets dispute

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Thursday in a case pitting the state's funeral directors against an order of Roman Catholic monks who make and sell caskets.

Funeral board lawyer David Gruning said a statute requiring caskets to be purchased from funeral homes should be reinstated because it shielded grieving people from "the trauma" of buying coffins that don't fit the area's burial spaces.

Scott Bullock, representing the monks of St. Joseph Abbey near Covington, contends the law was unconstitutional. The monks, who manufacture wooden caskets, in 2010 launched a lawsuit that resulted in a federal judge striking down the state law. The funeral board wants the law reinstated.

The Times-Picayune reports Bullock argued the law unfairly forced Louisianians to buy caskets only from funeral homes and denied them the option of using other vendors, such as the abbey.

The judges will issue a ruling later.

A handful of monks and nuns attended Thursday's arguments.

The dispute started in 2007, when the monks first tried to sell cypress caskets made at their Abbey woodshop without paying fees and obtaining certification from the Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. The abbey said casket sales help finance medical and educational needs of more than 30 monks.

The funeral board sent the monks a cease-and-desist letter, citing a law that carried thousands of dollars in fines and up to 180 days in prison for anyone selling coffins without a funeral director's license.

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