Headstone Makers in New Jersey Score Victory Against Church-Based Competitors Who Are Tax-Exempt December 20, 2014

Headstone Makers in New Jersey Score Victory Against Church-Based Competitors Who Are Tax-Exempt

New Jersey headstone-making companies have won a battle against the Newark Archdiocese over the latter’s hawking of gravesite monuments.

John Burns, a born-and-raised-Catholic owner of a monuments company in North Arlington, NJ, was appalled that the diocese began offering mausoleums and tombstones last year. He argued that the tax-exempt status of the padres gives them an unfair advantage, so he and his colleagues have been trying to get the state to stop the Catholic expansion.

Quoted in the New York Times,

Mr. Burns, 54, said the fight was “hard because it’s the church.” “Where in my life did I ever think I’d go to my state legislator and ask for legislation against the church to keep my livelihood?” he said in an interview. “It’s a shame.” …

Wilson Beebe, the executive director of the New Jersey State Funeral Directors Association, said the archdiocese had captured 25 percent of the Catholic monument market in less than 18 months, and predicted that its share would increase to as much as 50 percent in a couple of years. “They’re carrying on essentially a for-profit enterprise,” he said. “Given their income- and property-tax exempt status, there’s no way that the monument builders can compete with them.”

On Thursday, to Burns’ and Beebe’s delight, the New Jersey Senate voted yea on the bill, which

… prohibits religious entities that own or operate cemeteries from manufacturing or selling memorials, funeral vaults, mausoleums or funeral homes.

In addition, religious cemeteries are now also required to refrain from

… renting or leasing space to funeral homes and from arranging management contracts with any company that owns funeral homes.

It’s surprising that the bill was necessary in the first place. Several years ago, the New Jersey diocese said it would never sell gravesite monuments, and it doesn’t even deny making that promise. The diocese’s word wasn’t worth much, however; when asked about the episode by the Times, a spokesman said that the promise “was not binding,”

… and that officials had rethought the idea because of vandalism and damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

The archbishop of Newark, John J. Myers, is not pleased with the Senate’s vote. Earlier this month, he had urged Catholics to oppose the legislation,

… saying [it] would violate the separation of church and state.

Right. ‘Cause the Catholic Church is a staunch defender of church-state separation. But seriously: Have you ever heard a member of the clergy say that the Church, on principle, wants no tax breaks from the state, ’cause that would violate the sacred wall between the two?

Me neither.

Continued Myers:

We cannot stand by and watch the Legislature ignore the religious freedom we enjoy in this country as they attempt to insert themselves into the religious practice of Christian burial.”

I’m heartened that New Jersey’s lawmakers were not swayed by that Olympic-level bluster.

(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Tania for the tip)

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