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Carving Economic Liberty in Stone

Political favors for industry insiders may be business as usual in New Jersey, but a law that the Monument Builders Association of New Jersey just rammed through the New Jersey Legislature is one of the most egregious violations of economic liberty in the country. This law outlaws religious cemeteries from selling headstones to their own parishioners as part of being buried in the church’s own cemetery. Remarkably, the competitor in the crosshairs is the Archdiocese of Newark. As we did with the casket-making monks of Louisiana, IJ has leaped into action to defend economic liberty.

The Archdiocese has a religious obligation to provide consecrated ground for the internment of its faithful. Today it operates 11 cemeteries throughout northern New Jersey, containing the remains of nearly a million people. The Archdiocese must maintain these cemeteries in perpetuity.

In 2006, the Archdiocese began what it now calls its inscription-rights program to help generate the financial support necessary to maintain the cemeteries. Through this program, parishioners acquire a monument, such as a headstone or even a family mausoleum, from the cemetery. Unlike traditional headstone dealers, the Archdiocese promises to care for the monuments it sells in perpetuity.

While parishioners have celebrated the inscription-rights program, one group decided it would stop at nothing to shut it down. After losing a lawsuit in state court accusing the Archdiocese of “unfair competition,” the headstone-dealers’ lobby did what industry groups all too often do: It went to the state Legislature pleading for a law to protect them from competition. They wanted to make it illegal for the Archdiocese to sell headstones. Instead of sending this self-interested industry group packing, the New Jersey Legislature caved.

There is no legitimate reason to restrict who can sell headstones. While it has great symbolic value, a headstone is just a beautiful rock. Unsurprisingly, the headstone dealers presented no evidence in their previous lawsuit or before the state Legislature proving that selling a beautiful rock to parishioners poses any risk to anyone. This law’s sole purpose is to limit competition and divert parishioner money into the pockets of industry insiders.

That is why, on July 21, IJ filed suit on behalf of the Archdiocese and individual parishioners in federal court to vindicate the right to economic liberty for every American. IJ’s defense of the Archdiocese’s inscription-rights program is a part of our national campaign to restore economic liberty across the country. Our strategic litigation has already created disagreement among the federal courts of appeals about whether private economic protectionism is constitutionally legitimate. This case will eventually be heard by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has not weighed in on this question. That means that no matter which way the court rules, the case will deepen the disagreement among the courts of appeals and position us for a run at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Economic liberty should be the law of the land. We intend to carve that in stone.

Greg Reed is an IJ attorney.

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