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Ave Maria Stories that Were Wrong 7 Years Ago are Still Wrong

Several false stories about the town of Ave Maria have been making the rounds on a variety of mainly so-called "progressive" internet sites as well as on The Ed Show on MSNBC. For the most part, these stories repeat incorrect information that began to be written about Ave Maria when the town opened in 2007 – revolving around a fantasy that somehow residents in Ave Maria have no constitutional rights.

These falsehoods have been repeated over the years by fresh reporting that never bothered to check facts.

The Ave Herald, an independent publication that has no affiliation with the town developers or Ave Maria University, has been published since the fall of 2008 and remains a factual record of life in the town. During those six years, we have spoken either on the phone or in person to reporters from news organizations in the United States and Europe seeking background for stories they planned to do about a town where the residents have no rights, a town that is run dictatorially by Ave Maria University founder Tom Monaghan, and a place where only Catholics live. None of these stories ran in any respected, legitimate media outlets. There was a reason for this. The facts got in the way.

Here, for anyone interested in the truth, are the most oft-repeated myths about Ave Maria and the reality.

MYTH: Only Catholics live, or would want to live, in Ave Maria.

REALITY: There are people of all faiths – and some with no faith – living in Ave Maria. Some come because the homes are a good value. Others come to live by a golf course, as many people in Florida do. And yes, some come because the town is built around a Catholic university and offers a family-friendly environment for people of all religious beliefs. There is even land set aside in the town by the developers for a non-Catholic place of worship. And a significant percentage of students at Ave Maria University are not Catholic.

MYTH: Access to media such as cable television is restricted to prevent residents from watching certain types of programs.

REALITY: Entertainment choices are unrestricted in Ave Maria. The cable provider in town is Comcast, and the service is exactly the same as what is available in every other community in Collier County, FL, that Comcast serves. In addition, many residents opt for satellite television services that are similarly unrestricted. Also, there is unfettered high-speed internet access. This falsehood stems from an off-the-cuff comment made in 2004 by Mr. Monaghan that he quickly retracted.

MYTH: Residents in Ave Maria have no vote on anything.

REALITY: People vote in Ave Maria the same way people do in all other unincorporated areas of Collier County, which includes much of the greater Naples area and the nearby town of Immokalee. The main reason for the perpetuation of this falsehood that people in Ave Maria can't vote is that there is a special district established by Florida statute that manages Ave Maria's infrastructure -- mainly major roads, irrigation and storm water drainage.

This special district, called the Ave Maria Stewardship Community District (AMSCD), basically functions as the equivalent of what in most American towns would be a public utilities board. This kind of special district is not unique to Ave Maria and there are many such districts, overseeing a variety of functions, throughout Florida. At this time, the five-member board of the Stewardship Community District in Ave Maria is controlled by the developers and although legal procedures are outlined for its turnover to residents, the point at which residents would elect a majority of the board involves a complicated formula that takes into account the total number of acres in the town, the ownership of those acres, and the number of registered voters. It has been argued that the turnover point might never be reached and thus residents might never directly elect a majority of the board members, an argument that has been rejected by the developers.

What is important to note, however, is that the AMSCD is not a "government" -- at least as most people would understand a "government."  It has no ad valorem taxing authority, does not control zoning, and does not provide essential services such as police, fire, schools and inspections, nor does it handle code enforcement -- all the functions that are usually the role of local government. As with all other unincorporated areas of Collier County, these services in Ave Maria area are all provided by Collier County, which is overseen by the Board of County Commissioners. All members of this commission are directly elected by the people – including the commissioner representing the district containing Ave Maria.

MYTH: Contraceptives are banned.

REALITY: The sale of contraceptives is not restricted by any town regulation. The supermarket in town is free to sell them. And although there is no drugstore yet in Ave Maria, there are two national chain drugstores about 10 minutes away that sell every type of contraceptive.

MYTH: Tom Monaghan owns and controls the Catholic church in the town.

REALITY: The oratory in Ave Maria was built primarily to serve as the chapel for the university, just as many private Catholic colleges have their own private chapels. The Ave Maria oratory is different, however, because in addition to serving the needs of the university, it also operates as a parish in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Venice. While this dual use is uncommon, it is necessary because otherwise the residents of Ave Maria would have no local church in their town. But neither Tom Monaghan nor the university controls what goes on in the oratory. It is administered by a diocesan priest who reports to the bishop, and this administrator has full control over all religious activities that take place in the oratory. However, land has been set aside in Ave Maria by developers for a separate diocesan parish church that is expected to be built when the population of the town reaches an appropriate level.

MYTH: Ave Maria combines Church and State in a way that is unconstitutional.

REALITY: The American Civil Liberties Union has been saying since before the town opened in 2007 that it was worried – really worried -- that constitutional rights of the residents might be infringed and that the organization would be watching closely. More than seven years later, the ACLU is still watching. In that time not a single violation of constitutional liberties in Ave Maria has even been alleged, much less documented.

Click here for a related column by Ave Herald Editor Patricia Sette: Ave Maria, Where Church and State are NOT One

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Looking for the truth about
what Ave Maria is really like?
So much of what has been
reported is wrong.
Click for the most
oft-repeated myths about
Ave Maria and the reality.