NAPLES, Fla. — If Domino's Pizza founder Thomas S. Monaghan has his way, a new town being built in Florida will be governed according to strict Roman Catholic principles, with no place to get an abortion, pornography or birth control.
The pizza magnate is bankrolling the project with at least $250 million and calls it "God's will."
Civil libertarians say the plan is unconstitutional and are threatening to sue.
The town of Ave Maria is being constructed around Ave Maria University, the first Catholic university to be built in the United States in about 40 years. Both are set to open next year about 25 miles east of Naples in southwestern Florida.
The town and the university, developed in partnership with the Barron Collier Co., an agricultural and real estate business, will be set on 5,000 acres with a European-inspired town center, a massive church and what planners call the largest crucifix in the nation, at nearly 65 feet tall. Monaghan envisions 11,000 homes and 20,000 residents.
During a speech last year at a Catholic men's gathering in Boston, Monaghan said that in his community, stores would not sell pornographic magazines, pharmacies would not carry condoms or birth control pills, and cable television would have no X-rated channels.
Homebuyers in Ave Maria will own their property outright. But Monaghan, who said he sold Domino's Pizza in 1998 to devote himself to doing good works, and Barron Collier will control all commercial real estate in the town, meaning they could insert provisions in leases to restrict the sale of certain items.
Unlike in some states, Florida pharmacies don't have to provide contraceptives.
"The law doesn't say exactly what a pharmacy has to stock or sell," said Thometta Cozart, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health.
Naples Community Hospital, which plans to open a clinic in the town, will not prescribe any birth control to students. The hospital has not decided whether it will prescribe to the general public.
"I believe all of history is just one big battle between good and evil. I don't want to be on the sidelines," Monaghan said in a recent Newsweek interview.
Robert Falls, a spokesman for the project, said on Feb. 28 that attorneys are still reviewing the legal issues and that Monaghan had no comment in the meantime.
"If they attempt to do what he apparently wants to do, the people of Naples and Collier County, Florida, are in for a whole series of legal and constitutional problems and a lot of litigation indefinitely into the future," warned Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.
While Simon notes there are religiously homogenous communities across the country, from Hasidic Jew to Mormon, none can "wield governmental power along the lines of religious principle."
Simon also pointed to the 1946 Supreme Court ruling in Marsh v. Alabama that "ownership does not always mean absolute dominion."
Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist said it would be up to the courts to decide the legalities of the plan. "The community has the right to provide a wholesome environment," he said. "If someone disagrees, they have the right to go to court and present facts before a judge."
Gov. Jeb Bush, at the site's groundbreaking last month, lauded the development as a new kind of town where faith and freedom would merge to create a community of like-minded citizens. Bush, a convert to Catholicism, did not speak specifically to the proposed restrictions.
"While the governor does not personally believe in abortion or pornography, the town, and any restrictions they may place on businesses choosing to locate there, must comply with the laws and constitution of the state and federal governments," Russell Schweiss, a spokesman for the governor, said on Feb. 28.
"This is country-club Christianity," said Frances Kissling, president of the liberal Washington, D.C.-based Catholics for a Free Choice, which opposes the church's bans on abortion and birth control.
She likened the town's concept to Islamic fundamentalism and teaching intolerance.
"This is un-American," Kissling said. "I don't think in a democratic society you can have a legally organized township that will seek to have any kind of public service whatsoever and try to restrict the constitutional rights of citizens."