Religious Communities as Disruptive Competitors

Last fall, Barak Richman and I had a friendly exchange on this blog about whether antitrust law should apply to restrictive practices governing rabbinical hiring.  Our debate raised the question of whether antitrust norms are appropriate for regulating competition within religious organizations.  Two recent judicial decisions, one involving Benedictine monks in Louisiana and the other involving a Hutterite colony in Montana, raise questions about commercial competition between religious and secular organizations.

The Benedictine monks case arose out of  Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed part of the St. Joseph’s Abbey’s pine timberlands.  The abbey traditionally harvested pines to support itself.  In need of an alternative source of income, the monks decided to get into the casket business, hand-making two models of “blessed” pine caskets in their workshop.  Before they had sold a single casket, the monks received a cease and desist order from the Read more