Clear Creek (Iowa) Bible as Textbook Referendum Question

Clear Creek School District, Oxford and Tiffin, Iowa, 1981

Links to Archived Contemporaneous Press Reports showing this page is not fictional

Article "Voters Reject Bible in Schools" in the Miami News, Wednesday, September 9, 1981, the day after the election, in Google News Archives.

New York Times archived article "Iowa School District Voters Reject Bible as Supplemental Textbook," September 10, 1981.

Wilmington Morning Star article "Voters Reject Bible as Text," September 10, 1981, in Google News Archive.

Full Text of Document central to an Historical Political Controversy

Question of constitutional religious freedom, censorship of Christian viewpoints, and separation of church and state


"We, the undersigned, electors of the Clear Creek Community School District, hereby petition the Board of Directors of the said school district to direct the county Commissioner of Electlons to include the following proposition to adopt a textbook in the notice of the next regular election in the said school district pursuant to sections 278.1(1) and 278.2 of the Code:

"Whereas, it appears from Article 3 of the Compact of subdivisions 13 and 14 of the Northwest Territorial Ordinance of 1787, as reenacted under the Constitution August 7, 1789 (c.8, 1 Stat. 50), that the framers of the Bill of Rights intended that the common schools teach right morality and respect for religion; and

"Whereas, no State has ever repudiated this Compact with the consent of Congress, but Congress has applied the Compact as the definition of rights secured under the Constitution to virtually every area taken into the United States as a territory, once even declaring the Compact to be irrevocable between the United States, the People, and the States (April 19,1816,c.57): and

"Whereas, it appears from Article IX (2nd), Section 3 of the Constitution of Iowa that the framers of that document had a similar intent; and

"Whereas, it appears from the statements of the United States Supreme Court in Vidal v. Philadelphia, 2 How. 127 at 198-200, that even that Court has accepted the teaching of right morality and respect for religion as a proper function of publicly administered schools; and

"Whereas, the attempt presently made in the schools across this nation to teach as truth secular and humanistic opinions on the traditional subjects of religion has an amoralizing and anti-religious effect; and

"Whereas, this attempt to teach the traditional subjects of religion solely from a secular and humanistic point of view tends to establish a religion of secularism and of humanism in violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, to cause facilities provided in part by Federal and state funds to be used for instruction in this religion of secular humanism in violation of section 3384 of Title 20, United States Code, and Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution of Iowa, and to disqualify parents from teaching credibly and without official interference on these subjects because of their religious beliefs in vlolation of Article I, section 4 of the Constitution of Iowa and the national policy expressed in sections 3401(2) and (3) of Title 20, United States Code:

"Therefore, be it resolved that the Clear Creek Community School District, pursuant to section 278.1(1) and 280.6 of the Code of Iowa and the authorities cited in the preamble to this resolution and incorporated in it by reference, hereby adopts the Bible as a supplementary textbook in every course, class, or unit in every division, discipline of subject at every level which includes in its regular curriculum explanations of the origins of the natural universe, living things, human kind, human nature, society, religion or particular religions, or evll and its social and historical manifestations, and that instructors be authorized to make reference to this textbook; provided, that no student shall be forced to accept, obtain, or refer to the Bible or any part of it contrary to the wishes of that student's parent or guardian or penalized in any way for failure to obtain or refer to a Bible; and provided also, that this resolution shall not be construed to authorize the Board of Directors or any administrator or instructor to require use of any translation or version by any student, to use public funds to procure or distribute Bibles, or to give sectarian instruction or any sectarian interpretation of the Bible in any course, class, or unit affected by this resolution."

What was wrong with the effort

In 1981, I was a fairly conventional Christian ultra-conservative. I fully believed that what was wrong with this nation was SECULAR HUMANISM and that it could be fixed through political effort to restore Christian traditions, traditional values and God himself to the places they had once occupied here. However, I now understand that there was erroneous reasoning at the heart of this referendum effort, the real solution to the problem presented being an individual and spiritual one. The real underlying problem is our society's radical rejection of the notions that God desires an individual relationship with us and, on the flip side,that He has the right to make demands of us or to meddle in our affairs. But that societal rejection of God, though enforced through the mass media, the public schools and also sometimes through direct governmental sanction, is really a composite of many individual decisions to reject God. Governmental actions to "restore God to His place" would not change the situation even if the courts were to allow them to go into effect.

I also now realize that, while my view of the actual, historical intent of the Framers of the Constitution was correct, my view of subsequent U.S. history and of the propaganda role of the official version "Framers' intent" was all wrong. A majority of those who participated in the promulgation of both the original Constitution and the Bill of Rights undeniably anticipated both that the common schools would become a nationwide institution and that those schools would be supportive of religious ideas. The text of the Northwest Ordinance shows this. They would have been quite upset to learn that those schools had become nationwide but had later largely adopted a position of antiseptic hostility to Christianity.

However, the what a majority of the Framers really had in mind is completely irrelevant. To be sure, the courts, the branch of government which interprets the law, sometimes speak of the "Framers' intent," but they do not mean the Framers' real, historical intent. What a court actually means when it says it has searched for the "Framers' intent" is that it has searched for -- and found -- brief quotations from the writings of one or more of the Framers' which support the decision the court wants (for some other reason) to make. Those few quotations then, if adopted by the United States Supreme Court, become the ":official version" Framers' intent. What the Framers intended is exactly what the Court says it is, no more and no less, regardless of what other historical facts may indicate.

Sometimes, though rarely, the Court's efforts to silence a policy debate by wrapping itself in the Founders' words fails utterly, and lawyers convince it to reverse itself after some years. When the Court reverses itself, it will usually wrap itself in some more Founders' words as a justification, but it must be understood (as I did not understand in 1981) that neither the original decision nor the reversal had anything to do with the Framers' real, historical intent. Instead, the Court has been convinced either that its original decision was bad public policy, or that it is too unpopular (remember Franklin D. Roosevelt's Court packing plan!), or that it hurts financial interests to which the Court is beholden, and it is wrapping itself in Founders' words merely as a justification. More often, however, the Court's decisions invoking the "Framer's intent" settle into stable legal doctrines that few people but lawyers either know or care about.

Once in awhile, however, the Court will find a phrase written by one of the Framers which is suitable for use as a propaganda buzzword. (See the explanation of the buzzword fallacy on another site.) When this happens, the buzzword tends to completely replace the constitutional provision in question, both in the public eye and in the lower courts, and the content which the Court gives to the buzzword becomes the true meaning of the Constitution beyond reasonable argument. Official history replaces actual history as if all events which contradict the official version had never occurred. Such is what happened with the words Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1821 (thirty years after the ratification of the Bill of Rights) to the effect that they should not fear that the national government would interfere in their religious activities, because the Constitution had erected a "wall of separation between church and state." After this Jeffersonian proof text lay dormant for 140 years, the Court suddenly "discovered" it when it was looking for a justification to keep religion out of all things connected with the state. The Court then picked up these words, stripped them of their context, assigned them the inverse of their original connotation, and declared them to be the Founders' intent, the only true meaning of the religion clauses of the First Amendment.

Moreover, since the phrase "separation of church and state" is short, simple and loaded with easily manipulated symbols, it was the perfect propaganda buzzword. As a result, within a very few years after the Supreme Court adopted Jefferson's phrase, it had become one of the nation's strongest buzzwords -- a collection of abstract symbols the Court has almost perfect freedom to define as it wishes and which many people would willingly fight and die for. It is impossible to reason with a buzzword. I didn't understand this in 1981.

Author: Ian B. Johnson

Other reasons that I now reject politics as a means of accomplishing God's will.

Short Résumé of Ian B. Johnson on Note that this résumé is located on, a separate site which is slowly being rewritten by a committee of which I am only one member.

Last half of page © 2000, 2001 by Ian B. Johnson

The referendum question itself was written in 1981 by Ian Johnson and was presented to the voters in the Clear Creek School District that same year. It is a public domain document.

Current online CV of Ian Johnson.


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