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National anti-gay groups unite to target Iowa judges
The campaign to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices over a 2009 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage has attracted the attention of some of the most influential conservative organizations in America, each working together and sharing materials, funding and staff with Iowa groups and churches.
That coordination will be on full display next week, when anti-gay marriage groups and politicians will hold 20 events in four days around the state hoping to rally public opinion against Iowa judges.
The face of the campaign, Bob Vander Plaats’ group Iowa for Freedom, is a project of Mississippi-based American Family Association. But they are not alone. The Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, Georgia-based Faith & Freedom Coalition and New Jersey-based National Organization for Marriage all bring direct funding or in-kind legal and promotional support to local organizations looking to oust the justices.
“They have chosen to come into Iowa because we have marriage rights for people who are gay and lesbian and they want to test in Iowa whether or not they can do something about that,” Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Executive Director Connie Ryan Terrell said. “So they are going after our judges and justices.”
Terrell believes people throughout the country should take special note of what happens in Iowa’s retention vote, as it could become a template for similar initiatives nationwide.
“People need to be aware that it seems this year all of the very right wing organizations have Iowa in their sights,” Ryan Terrell said in a phone interview. “That’s a scary proposition for our state and should be a red flag to Iowans. The fact that we have drawn so much attention from outside organizations, so much money is being spent by extreme religious right organizations — they are dumping money into our state.”
American Family Association
Perhaps the most controversial group involved in the retention election is the Mississippi-based American Family Association. The AFA has promised to spend $200,000 on Bob Vander Plaats’ Iowa For Freedom campaign.
One of the group’s leaders, Bryan Fischer, has made repeated controversial statements over the years, and last week a group of Iowa interfaith leaders pointed to those statement in denouncing American Family Association as an “extremist hate group.”
Fischer has said homosexuals should be barred from public office and called gay sex “domestic terrorism.”
“Hitler discovered that he could not get straight soldiers to be savage and brutal and vicious enough to carry out his orders, but that homosexual soldiers basically had no limits and the savagery and brutality they were willing to inflict on whomever Hitler sent them after,” Fischer said earlier this year.
However, it is not only homosexuals the AFA is concerned with. Fischer has argued that Muslims should be imprisoned because “that’s not religion, that’s treason,” and wrote last month that inbreeding may have done “irreversible damage to the Muslim gene pool, including extensive damage to its intelligence, sanity, and health.” And of women, Fischer agrees with U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint that unwed mothers should not be allowed to teach in public schools.
Vander Plaats has repeatedly denied that AFA is the sole funding source of his Iowa for Freedom campaign, even though Iowa for Freedom is listed as a “project of AFA Action Inc.” on all of its campaign material.
Family Research Council
The Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council’s local affiliate — the Iowa Family Policy Center — teamed with the Sioux City church Cornerstone World Outreach last month to launch “Project Jeremiah 2010,” which calls on pastors around the state to encourage their congregations from the pulpit to vote against the three justices — a violation of federal tax law.
The church’s pastor, Cary Gordon, wrote a letter to more than 1,000 pastors that draws on the American Family Association’s 2009 analysis “What Hitler Knew” to illustrate an analogy between “secular fundamentalists,” Adolf Hitler and the “call for removal of activist judges from the Iowa Supreme Court.”
“Project Jeremiah” claims it is imperative for pastors to tell their congregants to vote “no” on judicial retention, and offers free legal defense to any pastor that breaks tax-law by doing so. Providing that defense is another Family Research Council affiliate, the Texas-based Liberty Institute.
In an interview with The Iowa Independent, the Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of the national Interfaith Alliance, said Cornerstone and IFPC’s efforts to convince pastors to oppose the judges reveal Christians who are “insecure in their faith.”
“Any faith that is strong is willing to mix it up with diversity of people and with a multiplicity of ideas, which tells me they are boastful about how much they believe – but when you get right down to it they are scared to death someone might have more truth than they do,” he said.
Family Research Council is sponsoring an Iowa bus tour next week featuring FRC President Tony Perkins and other state and national leaders urging Iowans to vote against retaining the three justices on the ballot. The tour will kick off on Monday at the state Capitol and conclude at a Thursday night rally in front of the Iowa Supreme Court building.
National Organization for Marriage
Vander Plaats’ Iowa for Freedom campaign got a boost last month when New Jersey-based National Organization for Marriage (NOM) spent nearly $235,000 on a TV ad campaign targeting the three judges up for retention. This week, the group spent another $200,000 on a new TV ad campaign.
NOM was formed in 2007 specifically to oppose same-sex marriages in state legislatures as well as serve as fundraising generator in target states. In Iowa, it spent nearly $100,000 on a legislative race last year, launched numerous robocalls across the state and held two rallies this summer.
NOM also targeted 33 members of the Iowa House with an e-mail campaign hoping to convince them to allow a vote on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The effort failed to garner enough support to force a vote on the issue.
National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown is co-sponsoring the Family Research Council’s statewide bus tour of Iowa next week.
Faith & Freedom Coalition
Another church wading into public debate on judicial retention is Point of Grace Church in Waukee. Point of Grace Pastor Jeff Mullen launched iowapastors.com and iowajudges.com to convince other pastors around the state to inform their congregations about “out of control” judges. The websites make available for download voter guides produced by the Faith & Freedom Coalition.
Formerly known as the Iowa Christian Alliance, the Faith & Freedom Coalition is a local chapter of Ralph Reed’s national organization based in Georgia. Reed formerly led the national Christian Coalition, which was denied non-profit status by the IRS due to its political activities surrounding slanted voter guides in the re-election bid of former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-NC. The denial came after Reed’s departure from the organization.
Reed made a fundraising trip to Iowa on Oct. 4, where he addressed the Iowa chapter of the Faith & Freedom Coalition and announced the national organization would match 50 percent all money raised by the Iowa chapter. Reed also told an Iowa crowd earlier this year, “give me $500,000 and we will take back Iowa.”
Point of Grace Church also has ties to the Iowa Family Policy Center.
Iowa Family Policy Center has received more than $3 million in federal funding through the national Healthy Marriage and Compassion Capital grants via the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Point of Grace is on a list of partner organizations for IFPC’s federal marriage program. As to whether or not the church received any federal money, Luke Vogel, director of financing for Point of Grace, said via e-mail, “I am unaware of Point of Grace ever receiving any funds from IFPC of any kind.”
Alliance Defense Fund
The Alliance Defense Fund was founded in 1993 by Christian groups as a counter to the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization some conservatives perceive as only defending “liberal” causes.
James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, is listed on ADF’s website as a founding member. Additionally, numerous ADF’s anti-gay marriage challenges were filed in the name of state affiliates of the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family.
Shortly after the Iowa Supeme Court’s 2009 gay marriage ruling, ADF offered free legal defense to any of Iowa’s 99 county recorders who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. No county recorder took the offer.
The Liberty Institute, the Texas organization offering to defend pastors who run afoul of the IRS by encouraging congregations to vote against the judges, is an affiliate organization of the Alliance Defense Fund.
Ryan Terrell said it’s important for people to understand the convergence of all these groups in Iowa.
“At the end of the day this is all about power, who has control and who makes decisions,” she said. “And when you take a way the rights of a particular people you garner more power. Iowans need to understand where these forces are coming from and what their intentions are. I go back to the issue of Iowa as a testing ground – this is not just about Iowa and our Supreme Court ruling.”