Free To Discuss Death Differently

Christian Lansinger
Christian Lansinger  ·  April 1, 2024

For decades, IJ has pioneered a bold but simple legal theory: People who speak for a living have the same free speech rights as anyone else. Most recently, a federal judge in Indiana confirmed that this is exactly how the Constitution works. When someone speaks on the job, even about difficult subjects like death, “ordinary First Amendment principles apply.”

Lauren Richwine, a “death doula” and founder of Death Done Differently, is just such a person. For years, she has counseled her clients through the uncomfortable decisions surrounding death. Unlike funeral directors, who provide services like embalming and burying remains, all Lauren does is speak. She listens to her clients’ wishes and advises them about their options. She helps people develop an end-of-life plan, directing them to others—including funeral directors—as needed. In short, Lauren serves as an emotionally supportive and financially disinterested advocate for families navigating the funeral industry.

But the funeral industry wanted these conversations silenced. When the Indiana State Board of Funeral and Cemetery Services received an anonymous complaint alleging that Lauren was engaging in the unlicensed practice of funeral services, it ordered Lauren to stop talking about death. She was silenced, and her business was shuttered.

IJ stepped in, and in testament to our occupational speech work over the years, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction ruling that Indiana cannot muzzle Lauren with arbitrary licensing requirements. In its opinion, the court applied the First Amendment with full force, allowing Lauren to reopen her business while the case proceeds. The court further recognized that “the public does not have an interest in giving funeral directors a monopoly over end-of-life discussions.” For the moment, Lauren is free to discuss death differently again.

Once thought radical, IJ’s theory has been accepted and adopted in courts from coast to coast. And we’re poised to bring one more into the fold: The state has appealed to the 7th Circuit—a federal court that has not yet weighed in on this type of speech. Lauren’s case now has the potential to protect more people than ever before and secure the right to speak for a living.

Christian Lansinger is an IJ attorney.

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