Institute for Justice · May 5, 2016

Arlington, Va.— Shelia Champion is now free to sell her biodegradable cardboard caskets without first getting a government-issued license. Yesterday, the governor signed a bill removing sales of funeral supplies and merchandise from the definition of “funeral directing.”

Shelia, owner of The Good Earth Burial Ground, sued the Alabama Board of Funeral Service last month over a law that permits only licensed funeral directors to sell caskets. She will not have to spend years of her life and thousands of dollars to get a funeral director’s license and convert her cemetery into a funeral home. The lawsuit will now end.

“The Legislature and funeral directors recognized that Shelia’s victory in court was inevitable because the law was unconstitutional,” said IJ Attorney Renée Flaherty, who is representing Shelia. “Alabama is now a freer place for entrepreneurs and consumers.”

Shelia opened The Good Earth Burial Ground just north of Huntsville, Alabama, to provide inexpensive and environmentally friendly interments. Her innovative business aims to help people reduce the enormous expense of funerals, which now cost over $8,000 on average, while returning remains to the earth in the quickest and most environmentally responsible way possible. Her caskets and shrouds may cost as little as a tenth of what people ordinarily spend on a casket.

Shelia sued the Alabama Board of Funeral Service in federal court because Alabama’s law was an unconstitutional restriction on her right to earn an honest living. The law created a monopoly on casket sales for funeral directors, which raised prices for consumers and kept entrepreneurs like Shelia from providing inexpensive, innovative products.

“I am so happy that our Legislature saw the light and passed the bill. This is a victory for The Good Earth, every citizen in our state and the entire country. It confirms the other lawsuits that were won throughout the country and highlights the laws that remain to be changed,” said Shelia. “The Good Earth will now be able to sell funeral merchandise and you will soon see information added to the website. Death is the one thing we all have in common, and we should have the option to invite the funeral industry to participate, not have it imposed upon us.”

Previously, IJ successfully represented the monks of Saint Joseph Abbey in their challenge to Louisiana’s casket-sales law. In fact, four out of five federal courts that have reviewed casket-sales restrictions like Alabama’s have struck them down as unconstitutional, so it is no surprise that the Alabama Legislature changed this law before the court ruled.

“The U.S. Constitution protects the right to earn an honest living and the government cannot interfere with that right by creating cartels that benefit only industry insiders,” explained IJ Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes. “If legislatures do not repeal their unconstitutional laws, then they will lose in court.”

Related Content