Alabama Woman Sues State Because It Won’t Let Her Help Dead People

Chris White | Energy Reporter

A woman is suing Alabama for the right to sell biodegradable caskets without having to go through the state’s funeral director syndicate.

The libertarian-centered law firm Institute of Justice (IJ) and Shelia Champion, owner of a local environmentally friendly cemetery in Hazel Green, Ala., are challenging a state law requiring that only licensed funeral directors sell caskets.

Champion started The Good Earth Burial Ground to give Alabama residents the option of purchasing inexpensive and “green” funeral arrangements.

Her caskets undercut the competition by a sizable margin.

The average cost of a funeral in 2014 was $8,505, according to The National Funeral Directors Association. Champion charges $1,750 to $1,950 and $200 to $250 to bury funeral caskets in The Good Earth cemetery.

Champion and IJ are suing Alabama under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment, which, according to IJ, makes unconstitutional restrictions on the right to earn a living when there’s no plausible reason for the law.

In order to comply with state law, Champion would have to a attend mortuary college, serve a two-year apprenticeship and fork over thousands of dollars. In addition, she must also build a funeral home, replete with offices and a showroom.

That’s a tall order for most thriving businesses; a seemingly insurmountable wall for independent entrepreneurs clawing and scraping to fill a demand.

“A casket is just a box and the law does not even require one for burial,” IJ Attorney Renée Flaherty, said in a press statement Tuesday. “There is no legitimate health or safety reason to license casket sellers.”

“More broadly,” IJ Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes added, “there is disagreement among the federal courts over whether the government can restrict economic liberty just to protect favored industries from competition.”

IJ believes Champion’s case may eventually make it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Champion, for her part, said she simply wants “to provide less expensive, more intimate, more environmentally friendly alternatives to expensive, formal funerals—that is what my cemetery and biodegradable caskets are all about.”

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