Troy Schoeller’s mistake was to speak too frankly — and too pungently — about his work as an embalmer and funeral director, but doing so never should have brought the wrath of a state licensing board upon him. Fortunately for the cause of free speech, the state’s highest court recently overturned that board’s decision.
In a 2006 article in the Boston Phoenix, Schoeller was quoted in gory detail about the mechanics of embalming obese people, and about a difficult reconstruction involving an infant whom he never named. Perhaps not surprisingly, Schoeller’s employer, a chapel, was displeased with his comments and fired him. But the chapel also filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Funeral Directors and Embalmers, which voted unanimously to revoke Schoeller’s professional licenses. The board, most of whose members work in the funeral industry, took issue with the language he used and accused him of undermining the integrity of the profession.