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Is Brownback Bringing Opus Dei Into The Senate?

by Bob Geiger

The United States Senate is often called “the greatest deliberative body in the world” which usually raises the bar on the tenor and intellectual content of speeches given on the floor and for the official record.

Not so for Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) who took to the Senate floor last week to deliver a strident push for the bigoted Marriage Protection Amendment, with massive distortions of the issue and an argument that was based almost solely on the opinion of a little-known, conservative think tank affiliated with the Roman Catholic organization, Opus Dei .

“The problem we have in front of us is the institution of marriage has been weakened, and the effort to redefine it on this vast social experiment that we have going on, redefining marriage differently than it has ever been defined before,” the Kansas Senator grimly intoned last week. “This effort of this vast social experiment, the early data that we see from other places, harms the institution of the family, the raising of the next generation. And it is harmful to the future of the Republic.”

Brownback then went on to give figures for how various states have shown their hatred of gay people with their own prohibitions on same-sex marriage and used that as his rationale for a similar amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

But Brownback really hit his stride when he described a paper, called “Ten Principles on Marriage and the Public Good,” published by a fairly new and extremely-conservative group at Princeton University. According to Brownback, the paper is an “… important statement of principles from top American scholars [to] be considered carefully by my colleagues.” He then added that the sentiments expressed in the non-scientific treatise were so vital to our national dialog that they should “..help guide our debate on this issue.”

The paper, sponsored by the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton, makes a case for banning same-sex marriage altogether. What’s extraordinary, is the idea of a United States Senator attempting to sway opinion on an amendment that would have altered our Constitution (had it not been defeated last Wednesday) by using a paper from an organization linked to Opus Dei, a strict, religious group that some former members have described as a cult.

Brownback spent a good part of his lengthy Senate speech last week citing the study and attributing it to “this Princeton group of scholars” while never mentioning that all of the findings were based on the ultraconservative Witherspoon Institute bolstered by the involvement — directly or indirectly — of a nonprofit, tax-exempt religious organization in Opus Dei.

So what exactly is the Witherspoon Institute, whose paper formed the foundation of Brownback’s anti-gay argument?

The Institute, which has only been around since 2003, has close ties to Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council , but is also tightly aligned with Opus Dei. Indeed, Luis Tellez, the president of the Witherspoon Institute is also the director and lead cleric of Opus Dei in Princeton.

Since its founding in 1928, Opus Dei has been known for its traditionalist values and right-wing political stances. And critics in academia — which include former members who sometimes go through “deprogramming” upon exiting Opus Dei — charge that organizations like the Witherspoon Institute are just veiled attempts by Opus Dei to spread its influence in top-tier academic circles.

So why then, is a U.S. Senator offering to Congress “research” linked to Opus Dei on something as vital as amending the Constitution? It turns out that Brownback, who was formerly an evangelical Protestant, converted to Catholicism by way of Opus Dei in 2002 and was sponsored in that conversion by Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), a vocal Opus Dei advocate.

Tellez, the leader of Opus Dei in Princeton, is a “numerary,” considered the most conservative of the sect’s members — they are unmarried, celibate, devote every aspect of their lives to their spiritual beliefs and turn over their salaries from secular jobs to Opus Dei.

Again, it bears repeating that Tellez is also the head of the Witherspoon Institute, the group Brownback cited at great length as his primary argument against gay marriage.

And remember also, it is Brownback, as an Opus Dei convert, who also leads the charge on Capitol Hill against abortion and stem cell research and who, along with Santorum, is seen by the Religious Right’s as a point man on “culture war” issues.

The other central figure in the Witherspoon orbit is Dr. Robert George, a Princeton professor and a board member in the Institute who, not coincidentally, helped draft the federal gay-marriage ban that was just defeated in the Senate. George chaired a meeting of religious leaders in late 2005, that included Dr. James Dobson and other members of the extreme Religious Right. In fact, in addition to his pivotal role in the Witherspoon Institute, George is also a board member at Perkins’ Family Research Council , a group known for its bigoted positions on the gay community.

And, via Brownback, all of this is ultimately finding its way into the halls of Congress.

While it may not be technically illegal for Brownback to be so clearly mixing hard-right religious ideology — and faux-academic papers promoted by religious organizations like Opus Dei — with debate on the Senate floor, it should certainly raise some eyebrows. In a country where strict separation of church and state is mandated, it seems Brownback is freely blending the two, attempting to use religious dogma to influence public policy — all the while not disclosing to his Senate colleagues the background sources of the research he is citing.

But this should not be surprising coming from Brownback.

In a January 2006 Rolling Stone article , “God’s Senator,” Brownback is described as a religious zealot with a view for America’s future that could almost be described as medieval.

“In his dream America, the one he believes both the Bible and the Constitution promise, the state will simply wither away. In its place will be a country so suffused with God and the free market that the social fabric of the last hundred years — schools, Social Security, welfare — will be privatized or simply done away with,” reads the article. “There will be no abortions; sex will be confined to heterosexual marriage. Men will lead families, mothers will tend children, and big business and the church will take care of all.”

After all, it was Brownback, who came to Congress in 1994 and refused to sign Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” because he felt it wasn’t conservative enough. Even then, as a newcomer to the House of Representatives, Brownback believed that the vast majori
ty of what he saw as Big Government should simply be eliminated, including the departments of education, energy and commerce.

And, yes, it was also Brownback who was so outraged at the split-second glimpse of Janet Jackson’s nipple during the 2004 Super Bowl, that he introduced the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act, which substantially raised fines for such simple on-air displays of nudity.

Finally, in addition to being brought into Catholicism by the likes of Opus Dei and using laundered research by an affiliated group on the Senate floor, Brownback chairs a meeting every Tuesday night with the “Values Action Team,” consisting of religious leaders like Dobson who help the Senator formulate his thoughts on public policy issues.

According to Time magazine , Opus Dei has assets in the neighborhood of $2.8 billion and, with John McCain unlikely to significantly rouse the Religious Right in 2008, look for Brownback to be the guy that Opus Dei, Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council turn to as their presidential candidate.

And make no mistake about it: Brownback wants to run. So if you think his views for a new America, as viewed from the Senate floor, are scary, think of what he’ll be like sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

In his mind, it may already be ordained.

You can reach Bob Geiger at geiger.bob@gmail.com


3 comments for “Is Brownback Bringing Opus Dei Into The Senate?”

  1. I guess the existing arguments against gay marriage just weren’t dumb enough…

    Wife of NC State Senator says Amendment One is necessary ‘to protect the Caucasian race’
    By: Pam Spaulding Wednesday May 2, 2012 9:06 am

    Nance paraphrased the remarks, as told to him by those who were present: “During the conversation, Ms. Brunstetter said her husband was the architect of Amendment 1, and one of the reasons he wrote it was to protect the Caucasian race. She said Caucasians or whites created this country. We wrote the Constitution. This is about protecting the Constitution. There already is a law on the books against same-sex marriage, but this protects the Constitution from activist judges.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 2, 2012, 11:51 am
  2. Ah, Kansas governor Sam Brownback’s administration appears to have found a loophole that will allow it to nullify federal gun-control laws: A new law makes it illegal to enforce federal gun laws if the guns are made in Kansas and stay in Kansas:

    Monday, May 6, 2013 10:57 AM CDT
    Kansas governor: It’s OK to ignore federal gun laws
    A new law makes it a crime for agents to enforce federal legislation on “Made in Kansas” firearms
    By Lois Beckett

    As we detailed yesterday, dozens of states are considering bills that attempt to nullify federal gun laws. One such bill became a law last month in Kansas. It exempts “Made in Kansas” guns from federal regulation and makes it a crime for federal agents to enforce federal law.

    Kansas’ Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who helped draft the new law, also released a response to Holder’s letter. “As a former professor of constitutional law, I ensured that it was drafted to withstand any legal challenge,” he wrote.

    “The Obama Administration has repeatedly violated the United States Constitution for the past four-and-a-half-years. That abuse cannot continue.”

    Kobach told ProPublica that he does not consider Kansas’ law to be “nullification,” because the law only asserts that federal regulations do not apply to guns that are made in Kansas, and have never crossed the state’s borders.

    “Nullification implies that you’re saying the whole federal law is wrong. That was the nullification of the 19th century. We’re not doing that…we’re acting with a scalpel.”

    Kobach said he did not craft the legislation with the goal of provoking a legal battle. He said it’s also possible that the Justice Department will “decide that actually their legal position is not as clear as they thought” and back down.

    Before the law can be challenged in court, he said, someone will have to be “directly injured” — for instance, if the federal government decides to crack down on a Kansas gun manufacturer who decides to start making “Made in Kansas” guns without a federal license.

    “We’re a long way from litigation at this point,” Kobach said.

    Similar bills nullifying federal gun laws are continuing to advance in at least three other states: Louisiana, Missouri, and Alabama. In Alaska, a bill exempting any gun possessed in Alaska from federal law has been approved by the state legislature and is awaiting action from Gov. Sean Parnell. Bills attacking federal gun laws have been introduced in at least 37 states this year.

    Many of the bills have caveats. In Kansas, for example, the law specifies that state will not actually arrest federal agents who try to enforce gun regulations.

    Bills in other states, including Montana, Wyoming, and Tennessee have attempted to go further. The approved version of Alaska’s bill removed a measure that would have allowed state law enforcement to arrest federal agents for trying to enforce gun laws.

    If this legal tactic works get ready for a wave of state-based micro-gun manufacturers. Actually, you should probably get ready for a wave of gun micro-manufacturers regardless of how this latest nullification push works out.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 6, 2013, 12:13 pm
  3. Rick Santorum announced his second bid for the Presidency today. Given the scope, and nature, of the GOP primary field, each individual announcement is barely a newsworthy event. But, in defense of Rick, he did win in Iowa in 2012, so an announcement by Rick Santorum that he want to become the most powerful man alive does sort of count as real news. Sort of.

    In tangentially related news…

    Ex-Santorum campaign staffer kills himself after stabbing fellow Yale conservative
    Arturo Garcia
    26 May 2015 at 17:26 ET

    A former campaign staff member for Rick Santorum took his own life on Tuesday morning after stabbing a Yale University student, the Associated Press reported..

    Authorities said 22-year-old Tyler Carlisle jumped from a ninth-story window in an apartment complex across the street from the university after stabbing 21-year-old Alexander Michaud. Carlisle fell onto a terrace on the building’s third floor and died. Michaud was hospitalized and was listed in stable condition as of Tuesday night.

    Carlisle, who recently graduated from the university, worked on Santorum’s presidential campaign in 2012 and was the campaign manager for Republican Joseph Bentivegna’s congressional campaign last year. Michaud, who is slated to graduate in 2017, is the publisher for a conservative campus publication, the Yale Free Press..

    Michaud is also listed as the “chancellor of cards and games” for the Party of the Right, a campus organization that described its mission on its website as making “Great Men.”

    “We are a band of brothers, brought together by the battles we have fought,” the group’s website states. “The intense personal interaction that the Party demands of its Members helps to forge strong ties and lasting friendships. The Party holds many social events throughout the semester, which include Toasting Sessions, Nights of Cards and Games, Table at Commons, the Annual Banquet, the Fall Bacchanalian Orgy, and much more.”

    The AP reported that Carlisle was also a member of the group. According to WCBS-TV, police described the two men as acquaintances.

    “I don’t believe the victim was a roommate,” Officer David Hartman said. “We’re not certain about the relationship. We know that they knew one another.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 27, 2015, 2:49 pm

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