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Recently, while doing some research, I ran across an organization called the Student Statesmanship Institute. Sounds harmless enough, but is part of the Religious Right's extensive network of organizations. (By the way, I highly recommend the work of fellow Kossack Frederick Clarkson, who's been researching the Religious Right for years.)

The Student Statesmanship Institute also has ties to Dick DeVos, the Republican candidate for governor of Michigan. DeVos's father made billions with a legalized pyramid scheme called Amway--a business held in such low regard that it has changed its name to Alticor. The DeVoses are big contributors to right-wing causes, most notably school vouchers and anti-gay marriage initiatives, and are among the biggest contributors to the Republican Party.

Dick's wife, Betsy, was head of the Michigan Republican Party for years, and she's best known for a proposal on the November 2000 ballot that would have brought school vouchers to Michigan. The proposal was so radioactive that Governor Engler, hardly a card-carrying liberal, disavowed it and it went down in flames.

But back to the Student Statesmanship Institute...The "About SSI" section describes the Institute as "a dynamic Biblical worldview and leadership training program," established by the Foundation for Traditional Values, to further the mission of "affirming and restoring America's Judeo-Christian heritage." It goes on to state that "this nation has drifted far from those moorings over many decades," and thus "restoring those moral foundations as a nation will be a long and incremental process."

The Institute, which "was launched to reach and train the next generation of American leaders," began several years ago with 14 students. It has since grown to include three week-long summer camps; a traveling, two-day, on-site program for Christian, public and home-school students; and the Ambassador League, "a discipleship program" for Institute alumni.

The Institute describes the the Ambassador League as its Eagle Scout program. It's a one-year project during which participants write letters to the editor, attend local government meetings, interview and shadow local leaders from various occupations, and volunteer time for non-profit organizations and campaigns, as well as attending court trials, and watching the legislature in action. And oh yes, working as pages at the Michigan Republican Convention.

In 2004, more than 800 young people, from 14 to 19 years old, took part in Institute programs. And what do they learn there?

Young people come to understand that God has a destiny and purpose for their lives. They start to realize that faith is not a "crutch" for weak people, but rather it has relevance to every area of life. They begin to see themselves as Christ's Ambassadors, who have been commissioned to influence the world for His Kingdom. They learn to give themselves as servant leaders in a bankrupt culture. They are equipped to counter the narrow-secular worldview that is so pervasive in our society.

The Institute's "Mission and Vision" includes helping young people develop a comprehensive Biblical worldview in order to apply God's eternal truths to every area of life" and to inspire them "to be Godly leaders in their generation."

One of the Institute's programs is "a true-to-life mock legislature that becomes the practice field for presenting themselves publicly in a meaningful way."

Who's Who at the Institute?

The Institute is headed by James Muffett, its founder and president. More about him below.

The board of directors includes:

* Ronald Reed, President & Co-owner, Advance Business Consultants, Inc., Lansing.

* Blaine Schultz, Vice President, Advance Staff Leasing, Inc., Lansing.

* Stephen Shaya, M.D., President, J & B Medical Corporation, Farmington Hills.

* Ben Benson, President, Benco, Pontiac.

* Marianne Packer, Secretary/Treasurer, Packer and Associates, Inc., Novi.

* Daniel M. Wiersma, President, OXFORD Partners, Inc., Grand Rapids.

* William Michell, Development Coordinator, Charles Simpson Ministries & One to One Publications, Williamston.

The advisory board includes:

* David Brandon, Chairman & CEO, Dominos Pizza, Ypsilanti.

* Betsy DeVos, Chairman, Windquest Group, Inc.. Grand Rapids.

* Ernestine Sanders, President, Cornerstone Schools, Detroit.

* Hon. Bill Schuette, Judge, Michigan Court of Appeals, Midland.

* Corwin Smidt, PhD., Executive Director, The Henry Institute, for the Study of Christianity & Politics, Calvin College, Grand Rapids.

* Professor William Wagner, Executive Director, Center for Ethics & Responsibility, Cooley Law School, Lansing.

Welcome, Honored Guests!

Now comes the fun part: a list of those who have participated in Institute events.

State Senators: Jason Allen, Patricia Birkholz, Alan Cropsey, Valde Garcia, Thomas George, Mike Goschka, William Hardiman, and Michelle McManus.

State Representatives: Clark Bisbee, John Garfield, Doug Hart, Jack Hoogendyk, Larry Julian, Jerry Kooiman, Mickey Mortimer, Michael Nofs, Triette Reeves, Randy Richardville, David Robertson, William VanRegenmorter, Fulton J. Sheen, and Joanne Voorhees.

Justices of the Michigan Supreme Court: Maura Corrigan, Steven Markman, Robert Young, and Clifford Taylor. Four out of seven.

Miscellaneous Public Officials: Michael Bouchard, Oakland County Sheriff; Dave Camp, U.S. Representative; Mike Cox, Michigan Attorney General; and Mike Rogers, U.S. Representative.

Other Notable Michiganders: Jane Abraham, President, Susan B. Anthony List; Spencer Abraham, former U.S. Energy Secretary; Patrick Anderson, President, Anderson Economic Group; David Brandon, Chairman and CEO, Dominos Pizza and head of the DeVos for Governor campaign; Betsy DeVos, Chairman, former Michigan Republican Party chair & Windquest Group; Clark Durant, Chairman of the Board, Cornerstone Schools; Michael Fezzey, President & General Manager, WJR Radio; Rusty Hills, Former Chairman, Michigan Republican Party, now Attorney General Cox's former press secretary; Dan Jarvis, Director of Public Relations, Michigan Family Forum; Mark Lemaine, Director of Government Relations, Meijer; Tom Monaghan, Founder of Dominos Pizza; Dick Posthumus, Former Lieutenant Governor; Ed Rivet, Director of Legislative Division, Michigan Right to Life; William Schuette, Judge, Michigan Court of Appeals; Richard Thompson, Director, Thomas More Center for Law and Justice; Frank Turner, Anchor, WXYZ-TV Detroit.

Right-Wing Figures From Outside Michigan: Gary Bauer, President, American Values and former presidential candidate; John Engler, Former Governor; Dr. D. James Kennedy, President, Coral Ridge Ministries; Mr. Alan Keyes, Declaration Alliance, Perennial Candidate Former United Nations Ambassador; Former Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was booted off the Alabama Supreme Court; Ralph Reed, failed candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia Former Executive Director, Christian Coalition; and Cal Thomas, Syndicated Columnist

And Who Are the Men Behind the Curtain?

Let's start with Citizens for Traditional Values, a pet cause of the DeVos family.

According to the organization's mission statement:

Right now there is a unique window of opportunity to influence legislators and impact public policy in Michigan. Building upon the relationships that we have developed with many of the legislators and staff over the years, CTV represents you with a strong presence in the halls of state government. This access enables us to contend for the values which are so important for the preservation of our society.

Now, let's move on to the Foundation for Traditional Values. According to its website:

Founder and President James E. Muffett established Foundation for Traditional Values in 1993 after many years of prayer and concern for the direction of our nation.  For ten years he was heavily involved in the pro-life and conservative political grassroots movement in Michigan. During that time, he received a scholarship to attend the Christian Heritage Tour sponsored by Coral Ridge Ministries, which confirmed the vision burning in his heart to make a difference....

[H]e recruited some business leaders to form a board of directors and began to lay plans for a statewide organization that would reach into every city. By the grace of God, Dr. D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries agreed to be the First Annual Banquet speaker for FTV in 1993, and this became the catalyst that helped launch the organization.  Since that time FTV has grown every year, and now has an excellent staff. Our programs are reaching more and more people throughout the state and nation.

And who is D. James Kennedy? According to Americans United for Separation of Church and State:

Although he's not nearly as well known as other religious broadcasters such as James Dobson and Pat Robertson, D. James Kennedy is working to amass a Religious Right empire that could one day rival Focus on the Family or the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Born on Nov. 3, 1930, in Augusta, Ga., Kennedy is a one-time Arthur Murray Studios dance instructor who turned to the ministry. He graduated with honors from Columbia Theological Seminary in 1959 and assumed the pastorate that same year of Ft. Lauderdale's Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, a congregation affiliated with the ultraconservative Presbyterian Church in America. (Kennedy holds a number of other degrees as well, including a Ph.D. from New York University.)

Coral Ridge has grown rapidly under Kennedy's oversight, and the church now claims just under 10,000 members. He began broadcasting on television in 1974 and today reaches millions all over the country with a regular Sunday morning program, "The Coral Ridge Hour," which is carried by more than 500 TV stations. In addition, Kennedy has a radio program, "Truths That Transform," heard daily on more than 500 stations. A second daily Kennedy program, the 90-second "Kennedy Commentary," is heard on more than 300 radio stations. He is the author of several books.

Kennedy has a Washington presence through the Center for Christian Statesmanship, which is also a project of his television ministry. Located on Capitol Hill, the Center, which opened in 1995, sponsors Bible studies and other evangelical activities for members of Congress and their staffs. Its weekly fax newsletter, Compass, is designed to "help today's leaders apply the principles of God's Word to their official duties." The Center also runs newspaper ads "that present the Gospel and challenge today's leaders to become modern-day Christian statesmen." Its director is Dr. Frank Wright.

We've just scratched the surface. There's an entire network of organizations and causes linked to the DeVoses and Dr. Kennedy. And a long, long money trail to be followed. But don't count on the Michigan news media to do that They're too busy reporting on the summer's biggest scandal: ticket scalping at Comerica Park.

Originally posted to Dump Terry McAuliffe on Wed Aug 02, 2006 at 07:18 PM PDT.

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