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

Friday, April 21, 2006

Residents of Immokalee Protest

IMMOKALEE (AP)--In a sight that recently has become all too familiar across the nation, protests have been raging today in Immokalee, Florida--but not on the issue of immigration! It seems that local residents are agitated over a controversy surrounding a successful Catholic law school in--of all places--Michigan. The Ave Maria School of Law is no stranger to controversy. The school's mission of integrating "faith" and "reason" and training lawyers in the "Catholic intellectual tradition" has raised the judicial eyebrow among the who's who of the legal community. Many disagree with Ave Maria's approach. Some Catholic professors at other schools also disagree. Fr. Robert Drinan, former dean at Boston College School of Law, former U.S. congressman, and now professor at Georgetown University Law Center, charges Ave Maria with a holier-than-thou attitude.

Well now it seems that Fr. Drinan may be right, at least according to residents of Immokalee. Recently, the alumni, faculty and students have communicated their disagreement with the governance of the school--specifically through actions that were presented to the school's Board of Governors. The Alumni Board presented a vote of no-confidence in Dean Bernard Dobranski, and the faculty presented their own criticism (which at this writing has yet to be made public). The AP has learned through recently released documents that the genesis of the discontent has been the fact that the school, in essence, is being run as a sole proprietorship of Catholic philanthropist, Mr. Thomas Monaghan, with Dean Dobranski acting as a "resident agent."

So why are the residents of Immokalee protesting? Because Immokalee is the site of the future and controversial Ave Maria Town. The dream of Mr. Monaghan seems to be to consolidate his Ave Maria empire into this "Catholic town." Juan Carlos Escobar, a Immokalee resident, who hopes to work for the planned Sacred Ground coffee shop which is due to open in Ave Maria town said "Que loco!" He indicated that he was worried at how he would be treated if this is the way the Board of Governors of the law school treats its own. Mr. Escobar is not the only one. A coalition of farmers in the town have demonstrated their discontent by forming Lazarus, a group committed to the principles of Catholic Social teaching. "We must show the world that not all that glitters is gold," said Lazarus founder Inigo Lopez, "There are real people and real families affected by this action. We want to affect a change in hearts and attitudes and therefore we must demonstrate our disagreement in a way that is 'Biblically-based.'" Thus, members of Lazarus are not only shedding their sins, but their clothes as well. This silent protest is in imitation of the Biblical story of "The Rich Man and Lazarus" (Luke 16:19-31), and members pledge to stand on barrels overlooking the proposed sight of Ave Maria Town until justice has been served. Perhaps this silent and poignant witness will cause the powers of Ave Maria to offer a scrap of food or a sip of water.