NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 2, 2005

Memorial Concepts Online sells an oak coffin for about $2,000, compared to an average of around $4,000 at funeral homes in Oklahoma, where the company is based. By separating the purchase of caskets from the purchase of funeral services, Memorial Concepts can offer substantial savings, not to mention a shopping environment free of hovering morticians. But in Oklahoma, which allows caskets to be sold only by licensed funeral directors, such competition is illegal, says Reason magazine.

The founders of Memorial Concepts Online are asking the Supreme Court to review their case, arguing that Oklahoma's casket cartel violates their rights to due process, equal protection and economic liberty under the 14th Amendment.

Under current Oklahoma law:

  • Qualifying as a funeral director in Oklahoma requires two years of college courses, graduation from a mortuary science program, a one-year apprenticeship, the embalming of at least 25 bodies and two exams; after all that, the applicant is deemed qualified to sell boxes.
  • Regulations mandate caskets be sold from a funeral establishment, meaning it includes a preparation room for embalming, a room for displaying casket options and adequate areas for public viewing of human remains; these requirements leave no room for online businesses such as Memorial Concepts.

At issue is the principle that people have a right to pursue a livelihood without arbitrary interference by the government, says Reason. If the Supreme Court hears the appeal, it will have an opportunity to explicitly reject the idea that protecting certain businesses from competition represents a legitimate state interest.

More importantly, says Reason, it will have the opportunity to revisit the part of the 14th Amendment that says "no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States."

Source: Jacob Sullum, "Coffin Break: Busting Oklahoma's casket cartel would cut the cost of dying," Reason Magazine, December 31, 2004.

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