November 11, 2005

"We will be able to control what goes on ... in Ave Maria Town."

There are a lot of reasons to move from Ann Arbor to Florida. Personally, I like Ann Arbor, though I haven't been there in decades. My mother grew up in Ann Arbor, and, like a lot of people, I went to college there. Florida? I've been there many times, and if you were trying to entice me to move to Florida, my first question would be where in Florida. I realize it can get very cold in the north and it's usually really hot in Florida -- that's a tie in my book.

But what's this plan to move Ave Maria Law School from Ann Arbor to somewhere in Florida?
"We'll own all commercial real estate," [Tom Monaghan, founder of the school and of Domino's Pizza] 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."
What a creepy vision! I wonder how different the set of students that applies to the Florida version of the school will be from the set that applies to the Ann Arbor school. Obviously, Ave Maria is a school designed to attract Catholic students, but I should think a different sort of student is going to be attracted to this super-sanitized environment than would want to be in Ann Arbor. And what about attracting and retaining faculty? One alumnus complains about the shift in the school's mission, which he'd understood was "to create attorneys who were well versed in Catholic social teaching and the law, who would engage the world and not retreat from it."

Do you think there's something tainted about wanting an untainted environment?

UPDATE: I want to say that I'm not against individuals deciding they want to live in retreat from the world. We all retreat to some extent. I think calling Ave Maria Town a "Catholic Jonestown" is offensive. I deliberately left that catchy epithet from the linked article out of my post. It's plainly wrong to lump all religious retreats together and label them with the name of the very worst one you can think of. It is not inherently wrong to want to live in a convent or a commune. It's not wrong to want to separate yourself from worldly temptations. Not every individual who chooses the life of a hermit should be called a Ted Kaczynsky. Religious (and nonreligious) enclaves should be judged on their own merit.

I have two big problems with Ave Maria Town:

1. Ave Maria is a law school. You can't practice law separate from the real world. You can't retreat and purify yourself. You have to become involved with the complexities of life, not shrink away from them.

2. Ave Maria has an existing faculty and student body who came to the law school that exists now in Ann Arbor. To move the school to Ave Maria Town imposes a radical change on them. Their opinions about whether the move is a good idea need to be taken very seriously. This isn't a matter of an individual deciding to go into retreat. Monaghan is deciding that others, who have adopted one way of life, need to live in a more purified environment.


alkali said...

"We will be able to control what goes on ... in Ave Maria Town."

This could be a Sondheim lyric.

Fiona de Londras said...

This is insane. Honestly. How does one treat lawyers in such an agnostic environment? Laeyers are supposed to question and challenge themselves and others,not to reside in some kind of vatican-approved-bubble. What kind of service can these lawyers do their clients?

And you know the scariest thing? They'll get students. They mightn't be a the cleverest or the brightest or the ones with the most potential but they'll roll in those doors.

Fiona de Londras said...

BTW Henry - I wondered whether the people at BYU had cottoned on to why people don't go there for conferences no matter how impressive and interesting the conference topic is!

Ron said...

I think they've never gotten over Ann Arbor rejecting their desire to put the world's biggest crucifix....Oh, if they could only live in a place where they controlled everything, than annoyances like that wouldn't happen...

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't worry about it. They will always be able to cook meth on their stoves, and teh Intarweb will take care of the rest.

Icepick said...

Alkali wrote: This could be a Sondheim lyric.

I'm thinking Talking Heads, myself. That line wouldn't be too out of place on "Don't Worry About the Government".

R. Fagin wrote: Indeed there is something tainted about wanting an untainted environment. It's a not too subtle way of showing one's own lack of confidence in one's ideas to persuade and enlighten.

This doesn't follow. Not wanting a tainted environment might, and probably does, indicate a distaste for the proscribed items.

I want an environment untainted by cigarette smoke, so I don't allow smoking in my home, car or office. It's not that I'm worried I might become a corrupted soul and a smoker. I grew up with smokers and never took it up, after all. I just find the smell to be disgusting. As they say, "We don't sh-t in your ashtrays, don't throw your butts in our toilets." It could simply be about not wanting to deal with other people's sh-t.

bearing said...

Disclaimer: I'm Catholic and loyal to the teachings of the church. I detest pornography, whether print or video. I believe contraception is wrong and a bad idea in general (the corollary, of course, is that I also believe extramarital sex to be wrong and a bad idea in general). I hope I live to see the day abortion is outlawed.

And... yes, I think this attitude is more than a little bit creepy, and I agree with Richard Fagin that it smacks of "showing one's own lack of confidence in one's ideas to persuade and enlighten."

Don't get me wrong: Individual specific questions of "blue laws" (should we restrict porn? should we ban strip clubs? should we restrict alcohol sales? should we restrict smoking?) are very much within the rights of the community to decide.

In particular, I applaud the goal of greater restrictions on pornography --- the coarsening of images in the public sphere is real, dangerous, and, well, bad for everyone, men, women and children.

But the attitude of total control of the environment is pretty misguided here. It's appropriate for a seminary, not for a law school.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

It's only human to want an "untainted" environment. The difference is how large one tries to extend the untainted zone, from the home to the neighborhood to the hemisphere. What constitutes "taint" is an open question but not unusual.

This country was founded by such people at Plymouth Rock, and has had them ever since. They've never been more than a fringe movement since the mid-18th century. The tide of modernism and popular culture is too strong to allow these people to gain sufficient numbers to seriously impose their ideas on us.

I think that in the context of our national culture as a whole they are a positive force, if only to act as counterbalances to extremists on the opposite side. These people exist on both the right and the left, as well as off the charts altogether. The Amish and Kouresh's compund in Waco are two sides of the same coin. I ride my bicycle past the Orthodox Jews of Williamsburg (Brooklyn) every day and they have yet to threaten my hard-won decadence!

vnjagvet said...

Utopians have been part of American life since the first colonists arrived on these shores.

Shakers, Quakers, Puritans, Amish, The Brethren, Mennonites, Latter Day Saints, Hassidim, Amana, Trappists, and many others have long been free to set up their peculiar communities here. Many still remain. All have had influence on American thought in one way or another.

I would not be attracted at all to Monaghan's view of the ideal community. But I was never attracted to live in a monastery either. Some are, and I have no problem accepting them here.

That is an accepted tradition in this country. I believe it should continue.

Icepick said...

Paul's comment reminds me of an old state slogan down here:

Florida: The rules are different here!

Of course, that's from back in the 1980s, when 50% or so of the world's cocaine traffic passed through the state....

Ron said...

Sorry Reader, I was born and raised in Detroit, and have lived in Ann Arbor for 20 years now. There are big differences between Ann Arbor and Ave Maria Town, (Ann points them out nicely) and the sooner they can leave here and go to Florida, the better.

Finn Alexander Kristiansen said...

Many communities (Jeff pointed out the Amish and Hasidim) form their own enclaves, and are usually permitted to do so without too much criticism.

To bring up Jonestown is absurd, and flies in the face of present and historical reality, given the number of people in the past who have formed communities around certain ideals without managing to end the day dressed in matching track suits, sipping Kool Aid or waiting for UFO's to resurrect their dead bodies on some hill.

When was the last time the Amish in Pennsylvania and Ohio were compared to a cult, or disparaged? When was the last time anyone critiqued the conservatism of the Orthodox?

The snide comments are usually reserved for Christians and Catholics, and one suspects it's because so many of us consider ourselves "Christian" in some way, and yet, grow concerned at the idea that perhaps we are not really living what we profess.

Fervent beliefs make us feel uncomfortable or defensive, as in, "Oh, you don't have to do that to be a good person" (failing to realize that being a good person and being a Christian are not interchangeable concepts).

Invariably you can express strong Amish tendencies, and people will love watching Harrison Ford visit you on the big screen. They will drive through and buy bread or canned fruit from you, a shoe fly pie or two, and it is all so quaint, so adorable. But let a Christian set up a community and it's the rebirth of Waco.

Even Israel itself is an experiment in creating a society commited to a certain set of ideals, some of which are applicable to a very small community. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, for one is not compelled to live in such a community.

So he wants to create a variation on Utah, and with a Catholic focus, and move his own law school there. Is that any different than what Pat Robertson has done with his law school or his American Center for Law and Justice (which has successfully argued cases before the Supreme Court)?

Indeed if we are to believe the Bible (and I am not saying we should), even God himself has restrictions for his community, restrictions only made flexible via the crucifixion of Christ.

The self contained community is not wholly absurd or creepy or cause for concern. If such is the case, we ought to be watching all those old folks in Sun City walking about in matching pink jump suits.

bearing said...

Many communities (Jeff pointed out the Amish and Hasidim) form their own enclaves, and are usually permitted to do so without too much criticism...

This makes me wonder: If Monaghan's vision succeeds (and I respect his right to create his enclave, even if I think it's a little misguided, see above), will it attract gawking tourists?

JSU said...

Hah. Slocum's and Ron's comments are an nice sign that Monaghan isn't the only one who wants to live in a more purified environment.

Rich said...

As said over at the thread on this at the VC, whenever I read a story like this about a group that wants to be pure and untempted, all I can think of is Twain's excellent The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg.

sean said...

Gee, by your logic, should some of the law schools expose their students to military recruiters? Is Yale creepy? Don't ask your colleagues these questions, or you won't be very popular.

Charles Chapman said...

I doubt that Monaghan's plan would legally effective. Consider his statement:

"We'll own all commercial real estate. 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."

So I purchase non-commerical real estate, and apply for a zoning change or variance to put in the Bada Bing Erotic Dance Emporium, Bookstore, and Magazine Shoppe. Monaghan and his hand picked Zoning Board and City Counsel deny my application. I sue in Federal Court for violation of my First Amendment rights. Result?

I've only done some quick and dirty research because this caught my attention, but see generally Renton v. Playtime Theatres, 475 U.S. 41, 106 S.Ct. 925, 89 L.Ed.2d 29 (198) and Young v. American Mini Theatres, Inc., 427 U.S. 50, 96 S.Ct. 2440, 49 L.Ed.2d 310 (1976), 427 U.S. 50, 96 S.Ct. 2440, 49 L.Ed.2d 310 (1976). My understanding is that regulation of commercial pornagraphy establishments must not be aimed at suppressing the content of the material shown or sold. See Renton v. Playtime Theatres, supra, 475 U.S. at 47-48, 106 S.Ct. at 929-930; Young v. American Mini Theatres, supra, 427 U.S. at 67, 71, n. 34, 96 S.Ct. at 2450, 2453, n. 34 (plurality opn.); id., at 79-80, 81, n. 4, 96 S.Ct. at 2456-2457, 2458 n. 4.

Moreover, in the Eleventh Circuit, where Monaghan intends to move his school, "zoning ordinances that target the social ills associated with adult entertainment are constitutional if they are narrowly tailored to further a substantial government interest and 'allow for reasonable alternative avenues of communication.'" Ranch House, Inc. v. Amerson, 238 F.3d 1273, 1286 (11th Cir. 2001) (quoting Renton, 475 U.S. at 46, 106 S.Ct. at 928).

I doubt that a zoning ordinance specifically and effectively designed to prevent "reasonable alternative avenues of communication" satisfies this standard.

Like I said, the above is only quick and dirty research, and I have to get back to work. But I do think there is an issue here. Some would say there is a business opportunity.

Duncan said...

Ann Arbor wouldn't give Tom Monaghan zoning permission to build his University so he went to Florida and decided to bring his law school with him.

Those who doubt that Floridians can engage with the world should be informed of the invention of the printing press. It's perfectly possible to learn about the world without living in Ann Arbor. I also understand that some people use some new-fangled electrical gizmos to keep in contact with the outside world as well. I'll have to look into that...

Balfegor said...

Re: Richard Fagin: "It's a not too subtle way of showing one's own lack of confidence in one's ideas to persuade and enlighten."

Really? And it's not a matter of, say, thinking that what's good for you and what's good for other people . . . no, wait, let me rephrase that.

What's good for you and what other people want may not just be . . . different? Some people want to live in an environment in which they are not forced to struggle for virtue every day, but would prefer (at least while they are still at school) to live in an environment where the temptations of the world (e.g. the temptation to set cars and trashcans on fire) don't rear their ugly heads, because the opportunities don't present themselves. Or the opportunities come loaded with a heavy cost. And I expect that many of them (not Ave Maria Town specifically here -- just planned-community-planners in general) believe that their ideas, stated merely as ideas will not be attractive to people -- they'll seem uncomfortable, restrictive, hidebound, creepy -- but those ideas, translated into a real society, will shine. People will see what a lovely society results when you accept those restrictions. And they'll attract people that way.

KCFleming said...

What's all the fuss about? It's surely no secret that college campuses have served as islands of enforced lefty liberalism for 30 years. One campus that goes in the opposite direction, and people shudder as if touched by a hand from the grave.

It's hard to get all worked up about this. Such efforts uniformly fail, but I don't fault them for trying to construct a more moral existence. Our modern licentiousness and amorality hasn't quite created Paradise, as far as I can tell.

Jinnmabe said...

To leave aside the religious aspect and the Whatever-town aspect for a second, I wonder how hard it is to move an entire law school. People have wished for years that the only law school in Idaho would move from the University of Idaho in Moscow (pop. 21,000-something) to Boise (pop. over 200,000). It would make law students' lives SO much easier. But if you talk to any of the faculty about it, apparently it'd be easier to move the Statue of Liberty to the moon. Anyone have any experience with a law school moving to a different city?

Joe Giles said...

For those who feel college campuses are continuing to slide away from any sort of classical education, it's not a stretch to overcorrect in the hope of restoring a movement toward a serious academia.

And I suspect it feels even more remote for those who aim for a more virtuous campus, even in terms of public virtue.

Ron said...

Reader, who says that I haven't gone back to Detroit to visit? My parents stayed there, and I would go back to see them until they passed away, plus seeing other friends, and not friends in the burbs either. Much of my work has taken me to practically every auto plant in the metro area. I just don't want to live there any more. I enjoy Ann Arbor for a lot of reasons that seperate it from both Detroit and Ave Maria Town, beyond coffeehouses, and having nothing to do with liberal politics.

Wow, the desire to live in a low crime town (and to reject a town that's remarkably sanguine about crime!) is viewed as the same as wanting to live in some religious retreat! Sorry, seen too much Detroit crime up close and personal to romanticize going back to it.

The Continental Op said...

There is a big difference between the proposed Ave Maria Town and the Hasidic enclaves in Brooklyn or the Amish in Pennsylvania (or Indiana, Wisconsin, etc.). The latter live within established municipalities that they don't totally control, they don't "own all the commercial real estate" and they don't prohibit other people from buying what they like. You can buy Playboy or Hustler in Lancaster, PA, and you can buy pork in Williamsburg.

This difference (and not some mythical anti-Christian or anti-Catholic hysteria) helps explain why many people find the Amish or Hasidim merely "quaint", while finding totalitarian communities like Ave Maria Town to be "creepy".