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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Wastin' away again in Avemariaville...

Take a look at this article, entitled City of God: Tom Monaghan’s coming Catholic utopia, on Monaghan's vision for the new town of Ave Maria, FL. Although author Adam Reilly takes some cheap shots and plays with the facts a bit (e.g., I think Monaghan hopes to prevent pornography and contraceptives from being sold in the town, not to outlaw the possession of them as the article implies), it appears fairly even-handed and well-researched.

It's clear the author doesn't agree with Monaghan or his contention that, for instance, Catholic education as a whole is on the skids...he mentions the prestige that comes with graduating from Boston College High School, BC, and then BC Law, as though temporal success has anything but a reverse effect on getting to heaven.

Most fascinating, though, is the author's description of the current hand-wringing by such organizations as Americans United for Separation of Church and State, whose director obviously thinks someone died and made him grand poobah of city planning:
You can'’t create your own town and then decide what all of the rules will be for living in that town. You can'’t have a religious test for purchasing a house.... This kind of approach to creating your own little community is still governed by fundamental civil-rights and civil-liberties principles that are inherent in the constitution of the state of Florida and the federal Constitution. This is not a guy who'’s buying his own island out in the Pacific. If he did that, he might be able to get away with all of this.
To this, Reilly points out that the town will start out unincorporated and consisting entirely of privately-held land. Stating that it is unclear what principles governing church-state separation this violates, if any, Reilly adds:
What'’s more, recent legal precedent may be on Monaghan'’s side. In 2003, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to a federal appeals-court ruling that allowed Orthodox Jews in Tenafly, New Jersey, to create an eruv --— a demarcated area within which specific religious prohibitions would be followed on holy days and the Sabbath -- inside that community. It was an emphatic validation of the constitutional right to freedom of association. The parallel with Ave Maria isn't perfect, since the Tenafly case involved occasional behavior within a pre-existing community. But it bodes well for those who envision a more restrictive Ave Maria. So, it's worth noting, do Monaghan's ties with Antonin Scalia, the conservative Catholic Supreme Court justice who was recently a "justice-in-residence" at Ave Maria Law School, and Clarence Thomas, Scalia'’s Supreme Court colleague, who spoke at the law school in 1999 and 2004.
Still, Reilly poses some fascinating scenarios which -- though wholly hypothetical at this point -- would be interesting to tackle:
What happens, for example, if an outspoken atheist tries to purchase a home in Ave Maria? If supporters of a political candidate who backs abortion rights attempt to canvass there, will they be turned away? If an individual or group of persons living inside Ave Maria deviate from Monaghan'’s conception of Catholic orthodoxy -- say, by possessing pornography or contraception -- what will the consequences be?
As stated already, as much as a town without pornography and contraception would be great, I think possession of such items falls outside the scope of planned prohibitions. And, Reilly notes, it appears that Monaghan and his partners, Barron-Collier, already differ on the extent of the prohibitions Monaghan does plan to implement.

Finally, Reilly posits his theories for why a court challenge to Ave Maria might just help further Monaghan's cause (and orthodox Catholicism in general).

My thought: That frustration with the culture of death would lead thousands of people, and particularly families, to express interest in moving to a town like Ave Maria is understandable. But the entire reason for the Church is because humans are -- and will continue to be -- sinful. Monaghan does not, or at least should not, envision a town where sin is no longer present...were that the case he might as well call the town Heaven. Here's the catch: what sincere Catholics know is that once you move past the more obvious sins, such as porn and contraception, you are faced with the reality of a whole host of new vices and weaknesses, such as sins against charity, that those blinded by sexual sin are apt to miss -- or dismiss -- in their own lives. If Ave Maria, by making it just a bit easier to avoid sexual sin and the rest of the culture of death, helps its residents to achieve that next level in self-awareness and to come that much closer to God in the process, may it succeed and flourish.

But leave the law school in Ann Arbor.