Eco-friendly cemetery haunted by Alabama funeral directors, law

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When Sheila Champion founded The Good Earth Burial Ground in Madison County she did not expect the type of legal backlash to come. The business is designed to create a “green” burial space for families wanting to provide their loved ones with an all-natural burial.

However, Alabama law only allows licensed funeral directors to sell caskets, urns or shrouds, which are often made of material that is not conducive to a “green” burial. For her part, Champion wants to design these types of items to allow a body to decompose naturally and fertilize the Earth as it does so.

On Tuesday, Champion and lawyers from the Institute for Justice (IJ) filed a lawsuit demanding that anyone be able to manufacture and sell caskets, urns and shrouds. A failure to do so only allows Champion to act as a counselor and provide a “green” cemetery space – the grounds of which won’t allow the mass-manufactured caskets commonly used.

The IJ has filed lawsuits of this nature all across the country, most recently in Louisiana when monks for Saint Joseph’s Abby sought the right to sell their own caskets – they won.

“I feel I should have the right to sell caskets, urns and shrouds,” Champion said. “There’s no reason that only licensed Alabama funeral directors should have that right. It’s just ridiculous.”

Champion also lambasted an Alabama law that requires families to hire a licensed funeral director to be involved in a home memorial, thereby hiking the cost even further.

“Families should have the right to have a memorial for their loved ones in their home,” Champion said. “People just don’t pay attention to the stupid laws that get passed.”

Champion’s attorneys have alleged that the laws are a ploy to funnel money into the pockets of funeral directors.

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

According to Champion’s website, the cost for a standard funeral is staggering, both financially and environmentally. Champion’s dream is to design bio-degradable funeral merchandise for the natural decomposition of a body and lower the expense levied upon grieving families.

“Four out of five federal courts that have ruled on this issue have struck down restrictions on casket sales as unconstitutional,” IJ Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes said in a press release. “More broadly, there is disagreement among the federal courts over whether the government can restrict economic liberty just to protect favored industries from competition, and Shelia’s case may be the one that goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve that conflict.”

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