By Katie Reilly
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark has sued the state of New Jersey, arguing that a new law preventing religious organizations from selling headstones is a violation of its right to economic liberty.
The lawsuit, which was filed on Monday, is the latest step in the church's lengthy legal dispute with the Monument Builders Association of New Jersey, which pursued state legislation after losing a lawsuit against the archdiocese in 2014. That decision was upheld in an appeal on June 23, according to attorneys representing the church.
Previously, members of the association have argued that the church threatened their business with unfair competition due to its tax-exempt status.
The new lawsuit challenges a state law, approved in March, that prohibits religious entities from selling memorials, including headstones and mausoleums.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie approved the law after asking that implementation be delayed one year in order to protect grieving families from an immediate change in the law during a difficult time.
"The new law is, most importantly, infringing on the rights of the families we serve," said Andrew Schafer, executive director of Catholic cemeteries for the archdiocese.
Schafer said the church wants to continue selling what it calls inscription rights, meaning a family buys rights to have a headstone inscribed while the cemetery retains ownership and responsibility for their permanent maintenance.
"When they’re acquiring the headstone from us, we’re providing that security to them that their memorial will always be cared for," Schafer said.
The Monument Builders Association of New Jersey did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
Christie's office deferred comment to New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman, who declined to comment on pending litigation. Christie and Hoffman are defendants in the suit.
In 47 other states, cemeteries are allowed to sell monuments directly to consumers, according to the lawsuit.
"We fully expect that when that decision does come down, it will be appealed," said Greg Reed, one of two attorneys from the Institute for Justice representing the archdiocese.
(Reporting by Katie Reilly; Editing by Eric Beech)