Domino’s Pizza founder Thomas Monaghan is having visions of a condom, porn and abortion-free Catholic utopia on a former tomato farm in Florida. He’s got the $250 million bankroll to do it, but some civil libertarians say this is one prayer that won’t be answered.
Nicknamed the ‘Pizza Pope,’ Monaghan plans to open the town of Ave Maria and Ave Maria University – the first Catholic university to be built in the U.S. in over 40 years – late next year. The town, which Monaghan aims at filling with 25,000 people, is taking shape about 25 miles east of Naples in southwest Florida. The total price tag for Ave Maria’s development looms around $400 million.
Monaghan is calling the construction crusade "God's will." Retailers won't sell pornographic magazines, drug stores and pharmacies won't carry condoms or birth control pills, and cable TV will carry no T & A, he said in a speech last year at a Catholic men's conference in Boston.
"I believe all of history is just one big battle between good and evil. I don't want to be on the sidelines," he reportedly said of his Catholic-themed urban design project.
The pizza mogul stumbled in an earlier attempt to base the town in his home state of Michigan after repeatedly failing to get planning permission.
But many Florida officials are on their knees praising the potential promise land. Some say the town and its 5,000-student university will spark a development and economic boom for the area. Over 7,000 people have reportedly expressed an interest in living high on the holy hog when Ave Maria’s condos sprout up around the town’s central chapel.
London’s Sunday Times quoted the university's president, Nicholas Healy, as saying students will “help rebuild the city of God” in a nation on the verge of a “catastrophic cultural collapse.”
Despite its traditional theological trappings, the town’s design is decidedly future-forward. According to the university’s website, Ave Maria will be crafted as a “compact, walkable, self-sustaining town that reflects the community's rural roots while offering a full range of residential options and commercial services to its residents.”
Nearly half of the town, built on a former 5,000 acre tomato field, will be devoted to lakes and open space while a canal system will surround parts of the core university and commercial area. Resembling an old-style European town, Ave Maria will feature mixed-use buildings with apartments set above shops and offices.
“Commercial centers will provide essential goods and services, entertainment and dining, enabling residents and students alike to live, work and play within the community, often traveling by foot or bicycle,” the university’s website states.
Monaghan’s initial pledge to ban contraceptives and abortion clinics and other free society ‘evils’ were met with a torrent of criticism.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida said it would sue if the proposals were instituted.
The ‘S’ word apparently lit a fire under Monaghan’s lawyers. After a legal review, Monaghan announced last week that he had “misspoke” on a number of his proposed sin bans.
“The town will be open to everybody,” he told the Associated Press on Friday.
A real estate firm partnering with Monaghan also said Friday that they would not ban sex on cable TV nor dissuade homosexuals from moving to Ave Maria.
Monaghan’s partners also backtracked on the contraceptives restriction, saying that the town will merely “suggest” that retailers not carry condoms and other birth-control aids.
But the ACLU’s not buying it. Howard Simon, the organization’s director, told NBC that "it is completely naive to think this first attempt (to restrict access to contraception) will be their last."
Indeed many Florida lawmakers have expressed enthusiastic support for the project.
Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist told the AP he saw nothing in Monaghan’s proposals that violated state law.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Catholic convert, was the featured guest at the university’s ground breaking in mid-February.
“As a Catholic, I am very proud that students will be able to obtain an education with the highest academic standards and with a firm grounding in religious and moral values," Bush said at the event.