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Monday, February 20, 2006

Stepford, Florida
Posted by Jill | 7:44 AM

If you were ever tempted to order pizza from Domino's for the fast delivery, maybe this will make you think again:

The 5,000-acre tomato field in southwestern Florida sure doesn't look like heaven. Bulldozers scrape the land flat while clusters of Porta Pottis signal an undeniable earthiness. But soon a massive cathedral will rise from this barren spot. Reaching 100 feet in the air behind a 65-foot crucifix, the Oratory will anchor Ave Maria, a whole new town and Roman Catholic university 30 miles east of Naples. Ground was officially broken last week, and the plan is to build 11,000 homes—likely drawing families who already hold the church at the center of their lives.

For Tom Monaghan, the devout Catholic who founded Domino's Pizza and is now bankrolling most of the initial $400 million cost of the project, Ave Maria is the culmination of a lifetime devoted to spreading his own strict interpretation of Catholicism. Though he says nonbelievers are welcome, Monaghan clearly wants the community to embody his conservative values. He controls all the commercial real estate in town (along with his developing partner, Barron Collier Cos.) and is asking pharmacies not to carry contraceptives. If forced to choose between two otherwise comparable drugstores, Barron Collier would favor the one that honored that request, says its president and CEO, Paul Marinelli. Discussing his life as a millionaire Catholic who puts his money where his faith is, Monaghan says: "I believe all of history is just one big battle between good and evil. I don't want to be on the sidelines."

The ACLU of Florida is worried about how he's playing the game. "It is completely naive to think this first attempt [to restrict access to contraception] will be their last," says executive director Howard Simon. Armed with a 1946 Supreme Court opinion that "ownership [of a town] does not always mean absolute dominion," Simon will be watching Ave Maria for any signs of Monaghan's request's becoming a demand. Planned Parenthood is similarly alarmed. So far, Naples Community Hospital, which plans to open a clinic in Ave Maria Town, says it will not prescribe any birth control to students. Will others be able to get the pill? "For the general public, the answer is probably yes, but not definitely yes," says hospital point man Edgardo Tenreiro. The Florida attorney general's office says the issue of limiting access will likely have to be worked out in court. Barron Collier and Monaghan say they're following Florida law.

And if not, Florida law would be happy to change to accommodate them.

I really don't have a problem with self-contained communities for people who are so offended by the idea of a drugstore carrying contraceptives that they can't even set foot over the threshhold. Religious communities, such as the Amish enclaves that pepper Pennsylvania and the midwest have been part of the American scene for years. If the choice is between forcing the rest of us to live by their rules or having them separate themselves, I'd take the latter in a heartbeat.

And if community rules call for pharmacies within the confines of this community to not carry contraceptives, and people who move there are aware of this, I really don't have a problem with that. But can anyone actually believe that Monaghan is going to be satisfied with that, in an area in which it's a five-minute car ride to any number of pharmacies that presumably WILL carry contraceptives unless Monaghan can stop them?

And is Naples Community Hospital planning to offer contraceptives to NO students, or just those who live in Ave Maria Town? If policies at a clinic housed within a religious community bleed out to the community at large, then the rules of Ave Maria Town really ARE overstepping their bounds.

Because of the inevitable bleed-over between this self-contained and self-described Catholic utopia and the larger community, does anyone actually believe that Monaghan and the ultimate residents and governing boards of this community are going to be content to live and let live outside the gates?
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