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Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Strikes Back At Critics

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AMES, IOWA -- Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus fired back Tuesday against critics seeking to oust her and two other justices who were a part of a unanimous decision declaring a state ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

"It is ironic the very persons who have criticized the Varnum decision...are now seeking to have their own constitutional rights protected by the courts," said Ternus during a talk at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.

Ternus is referring to Rev. Cary Gordon of Cornerstone World Outreach in Sioux City, Iowa. In September, the Rev. Gordon sent out a mass letter to churches exhorting them to support Project Jeremiah 2010. Project Jeremiah is an attempt to organize churches to actively encourage people to vote no on the retention vote of three Iowa Supreme Court justices on the Nov. 2 ballot, including Ternus. Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a formal complaint to the Internal Revenue Service, claiming it violated the church's tax exempt status.

Gordon says he is actually praying the IRS attacks his church so he can fight it all the way to the US Supreme Court.

"The pastor claims this law is unconstitutional, and has vowed to challenge the law," Ternus said. "Where? In the courts. It seems the pastor is quite comfortable arguing the will of the people as expressed in this federal law can be declared void by the courts. So it seems to me the real criticism by the court's critics is not the court had no power to declare an unconstitutional statute void, the court clearly did have that authority. Rather the critics simply disagree with the result."

Gordon told The Huffington Post via email he believes Iowa's courts are on a path that will lead to the criminalization of teaching the Bible in America.

"Iowa's activist judges are little more than a bellwether of a greater malevolence to come," Gordon said. "I will not sit back and allow such groups to use activist courts as their tool for unnatural social re-engineering."

The Iowa Bar Association endorsed the retention of the three Iowa justices, David Baker, Michael Streit and Ternus.

It's unusual for Iowa to politicize an election like this, said Allan Vestal, dean of the Drake University Law School.

"If the campaigns against retention are successful it will mean the vote has been politicized," said Vestal, adding it would be the first step towards degrading the merit based selection process of Iowa's Supreme Court justices.

A second Iowa pastor, Jeff Mullen, senior pastor of Point of Grace Church in Waukee, launched IowaPastors.com and IowaJudges.com which provide material to educate church members about the judges.

Rob Boston, senior policy analyst with Americans United, explains churches, like other 501(c)3 non-profits, can speak out on issues and encourage voting as a civic duty.

"The only thing they're not allowed to do is to step over the line and tell people who to vote for, who to vote against, or in this case, to put no on a retention election," Boston said.

"Many times voter guides are produced by campaigns so they're designed to make one candidate look bad and make another candidate look good, churches have to be very careful handling that type of material."