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Ave Maria Responds to WSJ:

Ave Maria School of Law President Bernard Dobranski co-authored a letter to the editor (subscriber only link) published in yesterday's Wall Street Journal responding to the WSJ story discussing the school's potential relocation to Ave Maria Town in Florida. Among other things, the story quoted an Ave Maria professor "hyperbolically" referring to the development as a "Catholic Jonestown."

Dobranski, et al., allege "a campaign of distortion and misrepresentations to influence the decision about a possible relocation of the Ave Maria law school to a new campus in Florida." Among other things, this campaign seeks to tar Ave Maria Town as a "religious ghetto, and a fanatical one at that." To the contrary, they write, the hope is that Ave Maria Town will attract people of many faiths who seek to live in a community that is supportive of traditional values. The letter continues:

Ave Maria University and the Barron Collier Companies have agreed that the town will promote the traditional family values that prospective residents are seeking. We believe this can best be achieved by attracting retail establishments that share this commitment to, for example, an environment free of the degradation of women that pornography represents. Retailers who know their market can be expected to stock only those products that sell. Although restrictions on both pornography and contraception effectively will be imposed by the marketplace, it is Ave Maria's fervent hope that Catholics will shun both of these. It is an outrage that this sincere desire to help fellow Catholics live in accord with their faith invites a comparison with Jonestown's infamous Jim Jones. . . .

Ave Maria University includes . . . on its board of trustees and board of regents (advisory) such prominent clerics and Catholic intellectuals as Father Benedict Groeschel, Prof. Robert George of Princeton, Prof. Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School and Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute. The idea that any of these people would countenance the sort of Catholic ghetto Ms. Riley imagines is patently absurd. Ave Maria seeks to be no more than mainstream Catholic; meaning, of course, unreserved fidelity to the teaching of the Catholic Church. This may be offensive to the secular left in the culture wars now raging, but it ought to be applauded even by a dissident faculty member of a Catholic law school, even if he prefers to remain in Michigan.

For more on this, my initial post on the matter is here. Andrew Morriss takes objection to my (and Ann Althouse's) take here. I hope to respond to his post some time this week.

UPDATE: Althouse responds to Andy Morriss here. I would add a few points. First, while people should certainly be free to "sort themselves into whatever Nozickian communities they want" (in Andy's words), this doesn't mean they will make good choices. It is one thing to want to live in a secluded community for the purposes of raising children or to cloister oneself off from the world in order to examine transcendent truths. It is quite another to seek to close off a law school from the outside world as it appears Ave Maria Chairman Tom Monaghan would like to do. (Note that he did not sign the letter to the WSJ.

Law schools are not monastaries -- and they should not aspire to be such either. That Ave Maria's effort may well be futile, as Andy suggests, does not make the impulse any less "creepy." Just because I would defend their right to choose does not mean I cannot criticize the choice.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Ave Maria Responds to WSJ:
  2. From Successful Startup to "Catholic Jonestown"?
Aaron:
A question: wasn't the "Jonestown" comment from an AVE MARIA professor?! Why is the president claiming a WSJ campaign of disinformation about a quote made by one of his employees?
11.29.2005 3:27pm
Anthony (mail):
Prediction: The person who runs the nearest convenience store which sells pornography, and the person who runs the nearest "massage parlor" (or whatever they use as fronts for prostitution in Florida) will become very successful, if "Ave Maria Town" is at all successful.

However, AMT being Catholic, I'd expect that the liquor store will be *in* town, but will stock only better (more expensive) liquors.
11.29.2005 3:41pm
Grant Gould (mail):
Am I the only one to find this statement a bit absurd:

Ave Maria seeks to be no more than mainstream Catholic; meaning, of course, unreserved fidelity to the teaching of the Catholic Church.

That's not the "mainstream" of any Catholics I know. In fact, I don't think I know more than one or two Catholics who adhere to all the Church's teachings, and none at all who do so "unreservedly."

(It's that little "of course" that's the icing on the cake, really. Like "wet meaning, of course, dry" or "black meaning, of course, white.")
11.29.2005 3:53pm
Anon7:
Monagahan, 2004:
"That means we will be able to control what goes on there. You won't be able to buy a Playboy or Hustler magazine in Ave Maria Town. We're going to control the cable television that comes in the area. There is not going to be any pornographic television in Ave Maria Town. If you go to the drug store and you want to buy the pill or the condoms or contraception, you won't be able to get that in Ave Maria Town."

Dobranski, 2005:
Retailers who know their market can be expected to stock only those products that sell. Although restrictions on both pornography and contraception effectively will be imposed by the marketplace, it is Ave Maria's fervent hope that Catholics will shun both of these.

OK, these two statements are absolutely incompatible, and Ave Maria needs to clarify which is correct.

Whereas Dobranski says people will just choose to shun things of their own free will, Monaghan clearly says that things like contraception and Playboy will be legally prohibited, with authorities even controlling what content comes in on TV (central v-chip control?).

That's what made the original story so creepy: the idea that one person or even a tiny group would make all of the moral decisions for the entire community.

Now I wonder who is correct, Mongaghan or Dobranski?
11.29.2005 4:17pm
Joesph:
Grant makes a great point. As a practicing though not completely faithful Catholic, I've been in many a Catholic church up and down the east coast. I haven't seen many of the eight child families like the one my mother grew up in these parishes, though every congregation does have a few. Since the effectiveness of the rhythm method has not improved in 50 years, I doubt that mainstream Catholics accept the Church's teaching on contraception.
11.29.2005 4:44pm
Juan Notwithstanding the Volokh:
It seems contrary to church teaching to want to banish temptations. What value is virtue when it is not tested? Didn't God put the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden? Presumably, if he did not want man to have free will he never would have created the tree in the first place. And isn't part of Jesus's virtue that he survived temptation?
11.29.2005 5:26pm
Cornellian (mail):
To the contrary, they write, the hope is that Ave Maria Town will attract people of many faiths who seek to live in a community that is supportive of traditional values.

Uh huh, the "traditional values" of a multimillionaire who's funding the place and (if I recall the original article correctly), considers there to be very few "authentic Catholics" in the world.

We believe this can best be achieved by attracting retail establishments that share this commitment to, for example, an environment free of the degradation of women that pornography represents.

Their concern for the plight of women is touching. I guess they won't have any problem with gay male porn then right? No degredation of women problem there. Why don't they have the guts to just come right out and say they don't like porn and want to ban it for that reason? Why pretend it's motivated by some concern for the plight of women?

Ave Maria seeks to be no more than mainstream Catholic; meaning, of course, unreserved fidelity to the teaching of the Catholic Church. This may be offensive to the secular left in the culture wars now raging, but it ought to be applauded even by a dissident faculty member of a Catholic law school, even if he prefers to remain in Michigan.

Congrats for the gratuitous swipe at that universally serviceable target, the "secular left." In the meantime, I'll look forward to their condemnation of the Iraq war, robust free markets et al, in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic church. Heaven forbid they might just be cherry picking the Catholic policies they like (i.e. culture war hot button issues) while ignoring the others (i.e. anything the Vatican says about economics).
11.29.2005 5:31pm
Jack S. (mail) (www):
Along the same lines as Cornellian, I love the idea of "traditional family values". Whose values might these be? What makes them traditional?

Perhaps a more transparent phrase would be ideological values.

Tell it like it is, all other areas of law demand as such.

(this is a blog that talks about legal issues, right?).
11.29.2005 5:41pm
R. Gould-Saltman (mail):
Andrew Morriss' "defense" points a clear finger on the problem, by his reference to the extent to which "Ave Maria Town" will resmble a "monastic community".

A "monastic community" consists, (generally speaking by definition) of those who "have the vocation", who voluntarily join it, and devote themselves to "the practice", whatever the practice of the community may be. They generally have a commitment to accepting the decision-making of whoever organized the monastic community.

This is a critical difference. If you run a town that way, you're no longer running a "monastic community", you're running at best a very insular community, and probably a plain old theocracy, and an authoritarian one at that. Monastic communities DON't generally include families, in any tradition I know of. (My own religious practice is Buddhist, and western Buddhists have been struggling for decades to find a way to integrate "householder practice" with "monk's practice", in a society which does not have the same traditions of "monk's practice" as in Asia.)

If you set out to run a town that way,
it's in "rural Florida",
you intend to make sure that none of the merchants sell anything you don't want them to sell, because you OWN the town,
there won't be books in the library or bookstore that YOU don't want kids to read,
they can't get to other libraries because they're in the middle of nowhere,
(how about internet service into town? Will it be filtered? The Chinese do it!)

then, while the "Jonestown" comparision may be "argument by epithet", a comparision to, say, Colorado City, Az., (which has been controlled by "fundamentalist" polygamist Mormons) might be uncomfortably closer to the mark. They think they're promoting "family values", too, just not the same ones Dobranski wants.


RFGS
11.29.2005 8:14pm
Mike Enright:
"Ave Maria seeks to be no more than mainstream Catholic; meaning, of course, unreserved fidelity to the teaching of the Catholic Church."


This is just too insulting. As someone who once considered attending Ave Maria and has been part of similarly orthadox circles, the whole selling point and rallying call is that the mainstream of the Catholic Church is too liberal. In fact, the whole point of Ave Maria is that every other Catholic university in the nation is unorthadox and to be comfortably within the teachings of the Catholic Church, you should learn from us. To turn around and say that they are promoting mainstream Catholic values is bizarre.
11.29.2005 9:55pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
It seems contrary to church teaching to want to banish temptations. What value is virtue when it is not tested? Didn't God put the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden? Presumably, if he did not want man to have free will he never would have created the tree in the first place.

Next you'll point out that Aquinas defended prostitution as a necessary evil, and suggest that Ave Maria Town needs one particular addition...

I always found the gnostics' position interesting on these points. If knowledge of good and evil is what makes a person truly human, truly spiritual, then was the snake evil or good? Might the garden of eden have been a trap, meant by an evil pseudo-god to ensare spiritual beings into a physical paradise, and the snake have been a rescuer, even the true god?

I think that was just about where I was when I was hurled bodily from the church.... Those stone steps were VERY hard. Luckily, I evaded the baptismal font they rolled down after me.
11.29.2005 10:09pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
A "monastic community" consists, (generally speaking by definition) of those who "have the vocation", who voluntarily join it, and devote themselves to "the practice", whatever the practice of the community may be. They generally have a commitment to accepting the decision-making of whoever organized the monastic community.

To be technical (I owed this to my late ex, RIP), a monastic community is more than this. The monastic movement invoved withdrawal from the world. The later movements of friars, e.g., Francisans, involved a vocation, devotion to a practice (technical, the "rule" of the order), but emphasized attachment to the world. (And even within the Franciscans, there were degrees. Most Franciscans could own modest amounts of personal property, e.g., a stereo. The discalsed (sp?) Franciscans believe that, to be true to their founder, they must abjure all worldly items save those necessary. The name comes from ditching shoes in favor of sandals, and a belt in favor of a knotted rope.

In a way, it might be interesting ... if a zen monk who followed such rules were described, he would probably be seen as truly non-materialist and to be praised. If a Franciscan were so described, he would often be seen as wierd.
11.29.2005 10:17pm
Public_Defender:
Anon7 has it right. One thing that makes this whole thing even more creepy and cult-like are the explanations given by Monagahan and Dobranski.

Did they have an honest change of plans? Or are they just trying say whatever they have to in order to avoid Jonestown comparisons.

This is unfortunate. Even though I'm a liberal, I see the value in a conservative Catholic law school. Let's hope the school won't change from being very conservative to nutty conservative.
11.30.2005 5:16am
joetheperson:
Is a desire to "examine transcendent truths" in law school so terrifying?
11.30.2005 12:01pm
CMick (mail):
I have no comments to make on Ave Maria Law School or its sister college because I really don't care. I do, however, want to comment on all the posts about what Catholics practice, how faithful they are, etc.

First: the rhythm method is practically extinct. However, many, many women (for both religious and secular purposes) practice natural family planning or the fertility awareness method. NFP is sanctioned by the Church. Planned Parenthood puts its effectiveness rate (when practiced properly) at 98 percent (it's typical user rate is lower). A mid-90s study by an Oxford professor puts the effectiveness rate slightly higher.

Second: It's probably true that the majority of Catholics are not faithful to all teachings. However, I would ask how many of those Catholics are actually *aware* of all the Church's teachings. Do the Catholics you know think the Church frowns on artificial birth control because they want women to be subordinate and raise small armies? Or do the Catholics you know read Humane Vitae, study the *real* reasoning behind the prohibition and then weigh those reasons before rejecting them?
11.30.2005 2:31pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
Jack S.,

Most people know what traditional family values are, o coy one. No adultery, fornication, masturbation, pornography, prostitution, pedophilial, beastiality, etc. That is: sexual acts only between a man and a woman married to each other. Quite traditional, quite easy to figure out.

And frankly, there really should be places in America where traditional family values are protected by law. The right to legislate - to make your own rules - is also a right. The best way to make sure our other rights are protected is to require that the votes implementing such restrictions are by unanimous secret ballot. In effect the adults in the community must all agree to forfiet their rights. I also have the right to waive one or more of my rights. It's similar to convenant deeds. No one is coerced, because all agree.

Yours,
Wince
11.30.2005 2:35pm
Aaron:
Wince:

The "right to legislate" ??!!

Not in my copy of the Constitution. Care to cite?
11.30.2005 2:48pm
Stephen F. (mail) (www):
It seems contrary to church teaching to want to banish temptations.

I guess that's why that prayer closing with "lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil" never quite caught on, right?

Since this is a law blog, I'll bite my tongue and ignore the ignorant bashing of Catholic values to ask a couple of law school-related questions: I'll be applying to law school with an eye on starting in fall 2006, and will probably be applying to Ave Maria Law School.

1) Is there any chance I'll be able to do so without having to leave Florida to go to Michigan?

2) If the Law School does relocate, could this potentially affect the school's ABA accredidation?
11.30.2005 7:17pm
Michael B (mail):
What do we genuinely and substantively know about this conceived move?

What do we genuinely and substantively know concerning Juan Non-Volokh's presupposition that Ave Maria desires to close itself "off from the outside world"? What do we actually know?

Too, would much or any of this "criticism" be occurring if, for one example only, Yeshiva University were conceiving a move? Would Juan Non-Volokh be forwarding similar criticisms if a single, critical benefactor of Yeshiva University had made, in any way, a similar speech eighteen (18) months ago?

I don't expect a qualitatively substantial answer for various reasons, not the least of which is it's not at all apparent Juan Non-Volokh is basing his criticisms on much that is substantial in the first place?

Again, what do we know? If little indeed, are these "criticisms" more akin to bigotries or milder prejudices or creepy presumptions and insinuations? When one looks at = and acknowledges - what we actually do know, are these questions not unreasonable?
11.30.2005 8:34pm
Tom Harmon (mail) (www):
Wow. The amount of vitriol here is amazing. It's hard for me to credit some of the arguments being made. Why does founding a town dedicated to Catholic teaching=cultilike, creepy, and Jonestown-like? Where is the desire to cut themselves off from the world ever articulated?

Get a grip, people. I'm a grad student at Ave Maria, and I can tell you that all of this handwringing about cults and whatnot is nothing but wide-eyed paranoia, which begins to sound with every repetition as if there might be a bit of anti-Catholicism behind it.

So what if we don't want porn and condoms in the town? It's not like people can't drive 10 minutes to the next town. Sheesh! Isn't this the definition of diversity? I want to live in a place with a particular character, that's a little bit different from everywhere else. There are many other places to choose from for people who want a different kind of place.

There are non-Catholics on the faculty and staff of Ave Maria University who seem to be just fine with the town and are also interested in owning a home there.

We want the law school in Florida because the idea is to have a complete university in Florida. The rest of the university benefits from having the law school around, and the law school can avail itself of the resources found in the rest of the university. There will be no closing the lawschool off from the rest of the world.

Any of you are welcome to come visit or buy a home in the new town. It should be a rather pleasant place, ecologically friendly (walkable, hence cars are not totally necessary), and have an interesting arts scene. Anyone who wants a little more inside info, instead of just spouting paranoid denunciations, is free to e-mail me.
11.30.2005 9:31pm
Richard Gould-Saltman (mail):
Mr. Harmon, among others, seems unable to distinguish between spirited, but reasonably polite, debate, and "vitriolic" "anti-Catholicism" coupled with "wide-eyed" (?!?) "paranoia". He should get out more.

I'd commend his attention to the works of, say, Robert Ingersoll, to start:

"Churches are becoming political organizations.... It probably will not be long until the churches will divide as sharply upon political, as upon theological questions; and when that day comes, if there are not liberals enough to hold the balance of power, this Government will be destroyed. The liberty of man is not safe in the hands of any church. Wherever the Bible and sword are in partnership, man is a slave. "

"In all ages hypocrites, called priests, have put crowns on the heads of thieves, called kings."
and
[hello, Kansas!]
"Only a few years ago there was no person too ignorant to successfully answer Charles Darwin; and the more ignorant he was the more cheerfully he undertook the task."

Now THAT's some good old home-grown American anti-religious vitriol!
THEN I'd suggest a quick survey of specifically anti-Catholic rants and invective; we could start with Marsilius and Luther, and continue through the history of British and American political pamphlets titled things like "No Popery!".

Gee, it's only been a couple of decades since the job description was deleted from the official list, and now you've put me, a Buddhist, to work here as advocatus diaboli. Pro bono, too!


rfgs
12.1.2005 1:21am
JP 3L (mail):
"Law schools are not monastaries — and they should not aspire to be such either."
Sure, they aren't monasteries, but law students are removed from the world around them to a fairly large extent. Would legal education be better if we all had to attend night school while working day jobs? I doubt it, but I see no reason to be critical of night programs. Would a more 'monastic' environment produce better lawyers? Again, I doubt it, but why not let the market decide?
12.1.2005 1:53pm
Tom Harmon (mail) (www):
RFGS,

Certainly the things you cite are more virtiolic and wider-eyed. That does not mean that there isn't vitriol or wide-eyed paranoia in this comments section.

I do consider vitriol the following: "Their concern for the plight of women is touching. I guess they won't have any problem with gay male porn then right? No degredation of women problem there. Why don't they have the guts to just come right out and say they don't like porn and want to ban it for that reason? Why pretend it's motivated by some concern for the plight of women?" I presume the poster knows Dean Dobranski and Mr. Monaghan very well to assume their motives.

Do you know what Jonestown is? Or why comparing Ave Maria to Jonestown might be wide-eyed paranoia?

And, frankly, your speculations about the internet being filtered or the censors clamping down on libraries is wide-eyed. Why the comparison to China? Is that really necessary?

Also, the new town won't be "in the middle of nowhere." It's right on the doorstep on a current town, immokalee, and about 10 minutes away from Naples, which is a community of around 100,000. The medium-sized city of Fort Myers will be about a 35-minute drive away.
12.1.2005 2:25pm
Michael B (mail):
RFGS,

You're presenting a false dilemma. Certainly one can find worse, or better (i.e., milder) forms. Too, and seemingly it's not mere coincidence, you're examining and presuming to instruct one side in the debate only. For example, it's as if it's somehow considered audacious to ask what the facts are which one is basing their criticisms upon. Far from audacious, it's elemental to what's going on here.

There seems to be an over-sensitive quality on the part of those who would instruct others once the tables are turned and equally incisive and equally trenchant questions and critiques are redirected.
12.1.2005 6:09pm
R. Gould-Saltman (mail):
Mr. Harmon:

You say: "And, frankly, your speculations about the internet being filtered or the censors clamping down on libraries is wide-eyed."

From the original story, emphasis added:

"We'll own all commercial real estate," Mr. Monaghan declared, describing his vision. "That means we will be able to control what goes on there. You won't be able to buy a Playboy or Hustler magazine in Ave Maria Town. We're going to control the cable television that comes in the area. There is not going to be any pornographic television in Ave Maria Town. If you go to the drug store and you want to buy the pill or the condoms or contraception, you won't be able to get that in Ave Maria Town."

If Mr. Monaghan's intention is to control what books merchants (who are commercial tenants in town) can sell, and to control what residents can and cannot get on cable television, it seemed a perfectly reasonable inference that he'll want to have an even heavier hand in the acquisition policy of the local public library, and will filter the internet as well, if it occurs to him and he can manage to make the tech work. Several whole countries manage it, with varying success; that's why the mention of China, which manages to do it in a very LARGE country.

I said that I thought the "Jonestown" reference was an inapt and inappropriate "argument by epithet", and, incidentally, I remember Jonestown quite well (Why would you assume I didn't know what it was?). I was finishing law school at the time, living in California, and knew some people who knew people involved. It's an example of religious utopianism gone horribly awry, but hardly a unique one. I asssume people thought the reference was informative here only as a possible source of distrust of efforts to isolate whole communities from "worldly impurity".

I'd never heard of Immokalee, but drew my conclusion from the reference to "rural Florida", again in the original story. My Yahoo Map service shows me a large band of empty map space surrounding Immokalee. (Not as much, or as empty for as far, as around, say, Deep Springs College, an institution I admire, but which really IS in the "middle of nowhere", and also really IS run like a monastery.) Far enough to discourage me if I'm a kid living there, and I want to walk to get to a bookstore or a pharmacy that's NOT under the control of the town elders.


RFGS
12.1.2005 8:49pm
Michael B (mail):
Holy Moses, RFGS, what a stirring piece of lawyerly leveraging out of nothingness, or more specifically, out of an eighteen-month old quote which additionally resolutely ignores all the other evidence. At least - with the intoned condescension and self-righteousness together with the presumption and insinuations plied with casuistic bravado - at least with all that you've managed to reveal a great deal indeed, about your own interests and motives. In the end though, you might notice it almost comes off as Mel Brooks styled comedy. E.g., the Robert Ingersoll quote in the first of your two posts reads like Moses coming down from Mt. Sanai; no argument is offered, it's all a declaration and dogmatically inveighed certitude and self-congratulation.

You forgot one thing, you forgot to say "trust me".
12.3.2005 12:46pm
James Kabala (mail):
A worthwhile queston is: Will Ave Maria town be an actual incorporated town, with these rules enforced by a town government? If so, a ban on contraceptives would probably run afoul of Griswold.
12.4.2005 2:52pm