Free the monks, free the enterprise

Individual freedom is what has made the United States unique from other nations on the planet. Economic liberty, the freedom to earn one’s living honestly by selling one’s products and/or services free from onerous government interference, is essential if we are to remain a nation committed to individual freedom.

Crony capitalism, on the other hand, is an insidious practice where politically connected special interest groups work with government to pass laws and regulations to shut out smaller competitors for the sole purpose of enriching the special interest groups. This practice infringes upon the smaller competitors’ economic liberties.

The Institute for Justice is a non-profit legal organization that fights for the economic liberties that government has been slowly but steadily curtailing. To further that effort, today IJ filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Saint Joseph Abbey to challenge Louisiana’s casket cartel:

Under Louisiana law, it is a crime for anyone but a licensed funeral director to sell “funeral merchandise,” which includes caskets.  To sell caskets legally, the monks would have to abandon their calling for one full year to apprentice at a licensed funeral home, learn unnecessary skills and take a funeral industry test.  They would also have to convert their monastery into a “funeral establishment” by, among other things, installing equipment for embalming human remains.

On August 12, 2010, the Institute for Justice teamed up with the monks of Saint Joseph Abbey to file a federal constitutional lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana to vindicate their right to earn an honest living.  In a time of 10 percent unemployment and widespread economic pessimism, this case raises one of today’s most important constitutional questions:  May the government restrict economic liberty just to enrich a group of politically favored insiders such as licensed funeral directors?

One of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans is the right to earn an honest living in the occupation of our choice without arbitrary government interference.  Louisiana’s casket licensing law violates that right.

The Institute for Justice said this about today’s filing:

The only reason the state of Louisiana is preventing the Abby from selling its caskets is to protect the profits of the state’s funeral directors.  The law is on the books, and the State Board is enforcing it, because licensed funeral directors want the funeral merchandise market to themselves.

“Economic liberty is a constitutional right that matters to everyone, even monks,” said Jeff Rowes, an IJ senior attorney.  “If government and special interests are willing to team up against monks, then no one is safe and we need judges to enforce the right to earn an honest living free from illegitimate interference,” he added.

“The monks’ story is just one example of a national problem in which industry cartels use government power to protect themselves from competition.  Protecting economic liberty and ending government-enforced cartels require judicial engagement – a willingness by the courts to confront what is often really going on when the government enacts licensing laws supposedly to protect the public,” said Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice.

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