Freedom of religion took a major hit when the Supreme Court ruled that corporations can have religions and that their religions are more important than yours and mine. While most of us (at least those reading) agree that Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was pretty clearcut in that it was a violation of women’s autonomy over their own bodies, at least there was a little bit of gray area because Hobby Lobby isn’t actually the government.
One millionaire, though, is testing the First Amendment to its outer limit by creating an entire town that is based on his Catholic rules. The worst part? The town is built in part with input from Justice Antonin Scalia. I wonder how he’d rule if this made it to the Supreme Court?
Ave Maria, Florida houses only about 2,500 residents. It’s the pet project of Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan, who is strictly Catholic.
The town brags to be “southwest Florida’s newest hometown . . . A town where children can ride their bikes to school, walk to the candy store and scoot their way to the ice cream shop. Where neighbors are friends and life is good. Where everyone enjoys life as it is meant to be lived.” Source: Truth-Out.org
Ave Maria was founded in 2005. Florida’s governor at the time, Jeb Bush, called the town, “a new kind of town where like-minded people live in harmony between faith and freedom.”
By “freedom,” Monaghan means the freedom to follow his church-imposed laws, including no birth control or X-rated TV channels. You can be sure there are no abortion doctors in the town either.
Monaghan fancies himself a philanthropist, modeling himself after Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet. He wants to give away half his nearly half billion dollar fortune before he dies, but unlike Simpson’s co-creator, Sam Simon, who is using his entire fortune to feed humans and feed and shelter animals, Monaghan wants to give us the Catholic version of Sharia Law.
Shortly after Monaghan sold Domino’s Pizza to Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital (it’s sure a small world in that .01 percentile, isn’t it?), he spent $300 million of his $1 billion windfall to open two Catholic schools.
Unlike Jesuit or more-liberal Catholic academies, Ave Maria University [AMU] is run “according to the guidelines of the Code of Canon Law,” a system of laws and legal principles that are made and enforced by the Catholic hierarchy. Twenty-eight majors including Catholic Studies, Early Christian Literature, theology and Greek, are offered. Mass is offered three times a day on weekdays and four times on Sundays. And it doesn’t come cheap: Tuition and expenses are estimated at $27,686 a year.
Here’s where it gets really undemocratic, though – he also bought himself a voice in the Supreme Court.
Similarly, the law school emphasizes “the moral foundations of law” from a traditional Catholic perspective. According to Talk2Action’s Frank Cocozzelli, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had “significant input” in developing the law school’s curriculum; ultra-conservative and anti-abortion Congressman Henry Hyde was on its first board of directors.
The ACLU is concerned, to say the least. They understand that people might want to be around like-minded people. There are plenty of predominantly Catholic or Lutheran or whatever towns dotting the United States, but what happens when rights are supplanted by religious rule?
“There were a lot of big questions,” (Florida ACLU Executive Director Howard) Simon continues. Among them: whether medical care would be dictated by religious rules, for example, what if someone with a Do Not Resuscitate order had an accident of some kind? Would the hospital respect the order? What advice would a rape victim get? What kind of referrals? Would she have access to information about abortion or emergency contraceptives if she wanted them?
There is a very good chance that Scalia will get to rule on the town he is invested in. Ave Maria University is suing the Obama administration in much the same way Hobby Lobby did. They want an exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate.
While liberals have little hope that the Roberts/Scalia court would rule against Catholicism, one has to wonder how they’d rule if a town like Dearborn, Michigan (for example) tried to institute actual Sharia Law?