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Should you need a license to sell caskets?

Should you need a government license to sell a box or a cloth? Alabama sure thinks so, but only if it affects the business of funeral directors.

Shelia Champion just wanted to offer a cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional funerals and cemeteries, which cost $7,000 to $10,000 on average, so she opened The Good Earth Burial Ground in Hazel Green, Ala. Her cemetery is primarily an untended forest and burial there must be made using biodegradable caskets and shrouds, including those she sells for a fraction of what people usually pay for a casket, in order to return the remains to earth quickly and naturally.

But in Alabama, only licensed funeral directors can sell “funeral merchandise” such as caskets, shrouds and urns. In order to satisfy the licensing requirements, Champion would have to spend at least one year in mortuary school learning things totally irrelevant to her business, such as embalming, plus two years as an apprentice, and hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a funeral home, since funeral merchandise may only be sold from a state-licensed “funeral establishment.” She potentially faces thousands of dollars in fines and a year in jail for violating the law.

So Champion and the Institute for Justice are suing the state over its arbitrary and protectionist law. IJ previously scored a victory for a group of Benedictine monks when it got a similar casket-selling license law thrown out in Louisiana.

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

Added Champion, “It makes no sense to limit casket, shroud and urn sales to Alabama licensed funeral directors when I could sew up a dress for someone and charge for it, but calling it a shroud would make it illegal.”

As in this case, occupational licensing laws are rarely about protecting public safety, and far more often are about protecting the profits of licensed practitioners by shielding them from competition. These restrictions on economic liberty should be buried.

The Orange County Register, April 13

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In Myanmar, eyes are on the prisoners

Myanmar’s new government, installed through elections in November, has begun spring housecleaning by beginning to free the country’s political prisoners.

The first wave freed were students, jailed more than a year ago for protesting modifications by the then military government to higher education that the students saw as infringements on academic freedom. Their public complaints, supported by Buddhist monks, were deemed anti-government protests and they were imprisoned. The new government, headed by President U Htin Kyaw and led by Aung San Suu Kyi, newly named state counselor acting as an equivalent prime minister, has made the freeing of political prisoners its leading item of business.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy triumphed with 77 percent of the vote in what were relatively free elections. They were held under a constitution that still gave a disproportionate amount of influence in the form of seats in the parliament and the guarantee of ministerial posts to the Myanmar military. So far, however, the constrained military has not interfered with the NLD government’s exercise of power.

Former President U Thein Sein, an ex-general, in a typically Myanmar move shed his military role and was ordained as a Buddhist monk.

There remain in Myanmar prisons at least 526 other prisoners, deemed political, jailed by previous military regimes. It will be a valid test of the credibility of political change in the country to see whether the new government will be able to free them as well without interference by the military.

The United States and the rest of the world will be watc

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