Americans United for Separation of Church and State are claiming that the small town of Ave Maria, Florida instituted an "undemocratic form of government dominated by one man’s interpretation of religious doctrine."
That man would be Domino's Pizza founder, and former Detroit Tigers co-owner, Tom Monaghan, who took the advice of billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett to give away half of his $485 million fortune before he dies.
When he sold Domino's Pizza to Mitt Romney's Bain Capital in 1998, he used $300 million to open the town's two schools -- one, Ave Maria University, the other a law school whose curriculum was designed with "significant input" from conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
"The most important thing I could do with the resources I had been blessed with was to help build quality, faithful Catholic education," he told Ann Arbor News at the time. "To have a more global impact, I need to focus on higher education to train the teachers, the principals, the future Catholic university and seminary professors."
Once the schools were established, Monaghan set out to create a "Catholic enclave," in which cable providers are prohibited from carrying pornographic channels and the sale of all contraception is forbidden.
"There is not going to be any pornographic television in Ave Maria Town," he told the Wall Street Journal. "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."
The executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Florida division, Howard Simon, told Truthout that the contraceptive ban was "the sticking point."
"We want to respect people's choices," he said. "But when government gives authority to religious groups to govern in accordance with religious rules, it goes too far and violates the Constitution."
Sarah Jones of Americans United agreed, noting that "Ave Maria is now nothing more than a vanity project for a fundamentalist magnate. But real people live there, and they’re entitled to constitutional rights."
"Monaghan’s millions can’t buy him the power to override the First Amendment," she added. "It is flatly illegal to legislate based on religious dogma."