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From Successful Startup to "Catholic Jonestown"?

The Ave Maria School of Law is something of a success story. Founded only five years ago in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Ave Maria's mission is to provide "an outstanding legal education in fidelity to the Catholic Faith." But it seems school founder and Chairman Tom Monaghan wants to mess with success. According to this story he wants to move the school from Michigan to a new campus in rural Florida — "Ave Maria Town" — where the school will be insulated from the outside world.

"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."

Ann Althouse finds this vision "creepy," and I'm inclined to agree. Even accepting Monaghan's values, it's hard to understand. After all, can one really be an effective lawyer if one refuses to engage the outside world? I doubt it. To paraphrase one alumnus, what is the point of creating principled Catholic lawyers if they are not going to "engage the world" but "retreat from it"?

UPDATE: I agree with what Althouse said in the update to her post, and would like to incorporate her sentiments by reference. Also, as I note below in the comments, the "Catholic Jonestown" phrase came from the OpinionJournal story linked above. It was not my formulation. That is why it is in quotes.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Ave Maria Responds to WSJ:
  2. From Successful Startup to "Catholic Jonestown"?
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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"?
27 Comments