A Roman Catholic archdiocese on Wednesday stopped selling headstones and monuments to comply with a new law in New Jersey that makes it illegal for private religious cemeteries to provide monuments.

Jet Chen Tan, ThinkStock

The Newark archdiocese in 2013 expanded an "inscription-rights program" to help ensure it had funds to care for its cemeteries. Under the program, the archdiocese provided the headstone and retained ownership of the monument.

More than 600 inscription rights were sold since 2006 with a basic cost of about $1,200 a headstone. The archdiocese also sold 51 private family mausoleums for approximately $6 million during that period.

The Monument Builders Association filed suit in 2013 in which it claimed the church's tax-exempt status and relationship with parishioners gave it an unfair advantage. The group lost after an appeals court upheld a judge who found it was not illegal for the archdiocese to sell monuments under state law.

The association turned to the Legislature, which outlawed the practice and Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed it into law.

A suit challenging the law filed by the Virginia-based Institute for Justice on behalf of the Newark archdiocese and parishioners Emilio Mazza of Edison and Dennis Flynn of Emerson is pending in federal court in Newark.

In court papers, the group's lawyers argued the law is unconstitutional because they said it is economic protectionism that stemmed from lobbying by the Monument Builders Association of New Jersey.

The archdiocese serves approximately 1.3 million Roman Catholics in Essex, Hudson, Union and Bergen counties.

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

 

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