Catholictown USA

Reading this CNN article, ed at first it all seemed a little too silly to make a big deal of:

During a speech last year at a Catholic men’s gathering in Boston, this Monaghan said that in his community, stores will not sell pornographic magazines, pharmacies will not carry condoms or birth control pills, and cable television will have no X-rated channels.

Monaghan is, of course, Thomas S. Monaghan, founder of Domino’s pizza. He plans to build a town around “Ave Maria University, the first Catholic university to be built in the United States in about 40 years.” While I try to decide whether this ridiculousness constitutes a graver sin than the amazingly terrible pizza Monaghan has inflicted on us for decades, read this:

Homebuyers in Ave Maria will own their property outright. But Monaghan and Barron Collier will control all commercial real estate in the town, meaning they could insert provisions in leases to restrict the sale of certain items.

No word in the article about what would happen to you if you drove into a nearby town to purchase condoms. Would there be checkpoints? It is an interesting approach to the problem, though. If I wanted to do something unconstitutional, I would need to do it in such a way that I never had to write any laws or ordinances, so the lease-provisions strategy is ingenious.

Not that it will necessarily work:

“If they attempt to do what he apparently wants to do, the people of Naples and Collier County, Florida, are in for a whole series of legal and constitutional problems and a lot of litigation indefinitely into the future,” warned Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

You’ll remember that this all seemed a little silly to be writing about. What changed my mind were these two quotes from elected officials in Florida:

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist said it will be up to the courts to decide the legalities of the plan. “The community has the right to provide a wholesome environment,” he said. “If someone disagrees, they have the right to go to court and present facts before a judge.”

Gov. Jeb Bush, at the site’s groundbreaking earlier this month, lauded the development as a new kind of town where faith and freedom will merge to create a community of like-minded citizens. Bush, a convert to Catholicism, did not speak specifically to the proposed restrictions.

This does get my dander up. The word “wholesome” in particular shows that the attorney general is taking sides, that he believes this would be a good idea. For the governor to praise such a clearly illegal plan is shameful. How do these people get elected? I’ll give the final word to a more gifted speaker than myself:

“This is un-American,” [Frances] Kissling said. “I don’t think in a democratic society you can have a legally organized township that will seek to have any kind of public service whatsoever and try to restrict the constitutional rights of citizens.”

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  1. Posted March 4, 2006 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Not sure I understand the source of your discomfort here. You don’t like the idea that certain stores will not carry certain products – calling such restrictions “unconstitutional”. Well, doesn’t nearly every community seem to have some retail restrictions: liquor sales, drugs in general, cigarettes, restrictions on when certain products can be sold, etc…and the FCC already limits TV-Radio communications. I’m not big on a lot of government regulations but I find them a lot more burdensome at the Federal level than I do at the community level.

    Obviously, Mr. Monaghan need not send you a brochure. But there are communities all across the country that reflect the local norms – dry counties, Sunday blue laws and bans on “adult entertainment”clubs. What, besides the Catholic flavor here, makes this one uniquely worthy of the Liberal Walrus ire?

  2. Posted March 4, 2006 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    You know, as I read over what you write I do think I may have over reacted to an extent. As you correctly point out, there are many counties that restrict various things in accordance with local norms, and that is not illegal. As I think it over there are two points in the story that raise discomfort for me:

    1. The restriction on birth control and abortion: I think of this as a womens’ rights issue, not to mention that the right to an abortion is (for the time being) constitutionally protected. And, as I wrote in the post, how wil the town handle people going to other towns to acquire these things?

    2. The public statements by elected officials: I don’t think that public officials should publicly endorse, or describe as “wholesome,” any one religion. Every citizen, no matter their beliefs, should be respected and valued by the government.

    Anyway, those are my more distilled thoughts. Thanks for an insightful comment.

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  • By The Liberal Walrus » Blog Archive » on March 13, 2006 at 11:56 am

    […] Excellent questions. The assumption that faith, or prayer, always benefits people has echoes in the story I blogged about a few days ago, wherein President Bush declared that faith based charities deserve more federal funding because they get results, or the story of the Domino’s Pizza founder who decided to create a Catholic town–a plan which drew praise from Jeb Bush. In all these cases, the freedom of religion of the individual is constrained by the institutionalization of one particular religion by the government. While some argue that Presidents, Governors, and military chaplains have their own freedom of religion, Poppleton deftly shows why that is irrelevant to the question: The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The First Amendment wasn’t meant to allow a military officer or a government institution the free exercise of religion; on the contrary, it was designed to allow the individual to be free of the government — military — established religion. President James Madison thought that paying congressional chaplains out of the public treasury was “a palpable violation of equal rights as well as of constitutional principles.” He went on to say, “Even military chaplains are a mistake, mixing as they do political, military and ecclesiastical authority.” […]

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