Recently, with the support from the Monument Builders of New Jersey, New Jersey has passed a law stating that no religious cemetery own or operate a funeral home, or sell monuments or mausoleums. The law wants to put an end the unfair advantage religious groups have in the market place. An unfair advantage might exist, but it seems to me that what this is about who gets to run the funeral monopoly. New Jersey, like the other seven states, requires families to hire a funeral director at the time of death. This already places them in an unfair advantage. The state already places vulnerable people in a high-pressure sales situation. I’m not sure that forcing people into a sales situation upon the death of their loved one necessarily protects them. The death care industry is interested in selling their own goods and services, and not necessarily sharing the sale. That is just how it works. A Ford dealer is not likely to want to sell a Chevrolet. In my experience, some funeral directors in these states will work with the alternative or what I like to call traditional death care wishes, but you have to seek them out. I’m not so sure that this new law protects customers. I am sure that this new law will ensure that the death care industry gets an obligated stream of customers, and the citizens will have fewer choices left to them.
Every person in the US can have a simple funeral and burial, but these laws just make it harder and harder. Caring for the dead used to involve family and community. Some of these were from an established group in a religious community. Sometimes, there were others who would step in to help, but this work was not necessarily a fulltime profession. Through urbanization, our culture has moved away from our intimate knowledge of death care, and the industry has filled the void. We have lost key knowledge we once possessed and not many of us would rather pay strangers to care for those we love than to become involved in the death care process ourselves. I know not many of us are right now prepared to care for our own dead. I suggest is that we start looking at death care as an act of love and not something we have to hire out to corporations to deal with.
Do religious groups have an unfair advantage in the sales world? They quite possibly do. If they ran a business that undercut the competition, I am sure the outcry from the conventional industry would be even larger. What it comes down to is who has the right to tell us who we can purchase funeral goods and services from? Does the state have a right in dictating this? These eight states decided that their citizens must hire a for-profit organization to care for their loved ones at one of the most vulnerable times in the lives of its citizenry. These states think that their citizens are incapable of filling out forms or making their own choices they feel best for their own families. I find that staggering. Why we who live under these laws do not right now call our state representative and demand a change, I do not know. I have. I urge you to make that call as well. These laws are unjust and burdensome for the citizenry of these states. In New Jersey, they are fighting over who has the bigger monopoly when they should be opening up the market place to more competition and creativity. What has happened in New Jersey can happen in any state. We need to wake up to the fact that the death care industry lobby is strong and doing well. We need to stand up for our right to choose, and not let the state dictate to us what is right and best.