Saturday, March 04, 2006

Thomas Monaghan's Model Catholic Community

Thomas S. Monaghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza has started construction on what he hopes will become a model Catholic community – a community free of pornography, prostitution, contraception, abortion, and homosexuality.

Since making his original statement, Monaghan’s plan came under fire from the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups threatening lawsuits. Namely, they were protesting that the city’s government would violate the separation of church and state. Monaghan then backed off of his original statement saying that the Catholic rules will only apply to the university that will be a central part of the town, not the town itself.

Yet, it is reasonable to conclude that he would like the community to set these standards.

It has been a while since I discussed an issue like this, so I will add my standard caveat. It is not my job to report on what the law does or does not say – whether such a community would be unconstitutional. My job is to investigate what the law should be – the moral foundation that serves to distinguish just from unjust law.

There is reason to believe that a society would benefit from being particularly tolerant of citizens' attempts to build model communities. If a group of people build a community that thrives, then this tells others that they should head in the same direction. If the model community fails, others can see within this a lesson on what not to try. In both cases, society as a whole is better off with this information than without it.

Even core Constitutional values such as the separation of church and state should be open to question. Perhaps it is a mistake to separate church from state? If it is, then it would benefit us to find out. One way to find out would be to allow individuals such as Monaghan to attempt to create model communities that do not allow for this exception, and see how they fare. If they fare poorly, then the rest of the world can use that information to conclude, “Let’s not go that direction.”


We already allow communities that blur the distinction between church and state to some extent.

For example, convents and monasteries are live-in communities governed by a strict religious code. Clearly, the principle that church and state should be separate does not apply to the governance of convents and monasteries.

If these are permissible, then it seems that it should be permissible for like-minded people to set up a larger version of a convent or monastery – one that is established for families rather than unmarried women and men. On this model, we also have the examples set by Amish and Hutterite communities that are scattered around this nation. These communities are also allowed to mix church and state -- they are governed by their own religious order.

Monaghan’s community is a larger example of the same type of situation.


There are, of course, limits to how far an experimental model community should be allowed to take its license to experiment. We limit the freedom of speech by saying that this does not allow a person to yell 'fire' in a crowded movie theater. Similarly, an individual cannot use freedom of speech to protect himself from civil suits of libel and slander. We also limit freedom of religion by prohibiting those religions that would chain a human being to an altar and cut out his beating heart or even allow a child to die from a medically treatable disease.

For the same types of reasons, the freedom to form an experimental community should not be allowed to cross certain moral lines. For example, it may not practice ritual human sacrifice. Nor should we allow an experimental slave community, or a community that arms and trains its members to commit terrorist acts or to practice and plan the violent overthrow of this or any other government.

The only one of these restrictions that Monaghan’s Catholic community might violate is the prohibition on human sacrifice. He may not be advocating an actual ceremony where a live human is killed and offered up as a sacrifice to God. However, as I argued in Faith and Human Sacrifice, there is more than one way to sacrifice another human to one’s God.

Two additional requirements for a permissible community of this type would be:

(1) A voluntary and fully informed decision to be a member of the community

(2) An easy exit for those who may want to leave. By “easy,” I mean that the community should not be allowed to hold people into the community under duress – for example, by holding on to the children. The legal presumption should be in favor of the individual seeking to leave, not the community seeking to retain members.

However, I see no reason to believe at this point that Monaghan’s village cannot stay within these limits.


I have sometimes wondered what would happen if a group of atheists were to try to create a model community – a community called “Reason.”

I actually lived in community that what something like this when I was a graduate student in the Philosophy Department of the University of Maryland. There were very few theists in that department – as teachers or as students (though the professors who were theists were still well respected). It was nice being able to enter into conversation with others knowing that certain questions were “behind you” and both parties were working on the assumption that no Gods exist.

“Reason” would be attending a school that did not constantly seek to denigrate them and their beliefs with pledges of allegiance to God and plaques on the walls saying that “WE” trust in God and those who did not shall not be thought of as one of the “WE” group.

It would be a place where the science teachers knew the difference between science and pseudo-science, where “intelligent design” gets discussed in a Philosophy class and nobody pretends that it is actually science.

The community would regard the psychic hotline the way a Catholic community would regard phone or internet sex, and spiritualists would have the same status as adult book stores in the Christian community.

Only, as I think about it, it seems somewhat bigoted and narrow-minded. It would seem that a better community would be one in which different people with different world views learned to live together and interact as friends and neighbors -- one that did not, in fact, teach its citizens to hate and to shut out those who held different views.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't see why one couldn't found a community as a sort of bu,y in co-op type arrangement, and then as a private entity require certain standards beyond normal legal obligations (as the thrice bedamned boyscouts are allowed to do). We already allow a certain degree of authority to neighborhood groups and the like to enfore regulations on property that are likely in violation of much of the spirit of the Constitution if not the letter.

The only failing I see (and the boyscouts example seems to allow for it anyway) would be the whole concept of violation of civil rights.

A real world example of this already in operation might be the FLDS's control of Colorado City, AZ. Where they openly break (or at least flout) the law in favor of their religious convictions.

Marc Higbie

P.S. As to my opinion on the above, a part of me says let the bastards have thier various icky religious communities so long as it gets them out of mine :), but that path probably leads to some trouble down the road.