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Is Brownback Bringing Opus Dei Into The Senate?

by Bob Geiger
http://www.democrats.com/node/9220 [1]

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 [2].

“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,” [3] 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 [4] 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 [5], but is also tight­ly aligned with Opus Dei. Indeed, Luis Tellez, the pres­i­dent of the With­er­spoon Insti­tute [6] is also the direc­tor and lead cler­ic [7] 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 [8] 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 [9] 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 [10], 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 [11], “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” [12] 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 [13], 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 [14]