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Federal judge orders Harry Potter back onto library shelves

By The Associated Press
04.23.03

LITTLE ROCK — Harry Potter got out of another scrape without having to lift a wand.

A federal judge yesterday ordered a rural school district in western Arkansas to put copies of British author J.K. Rowling’s popular children’s books series, which features the bespectacled hero, back on its library shelves.

The Cedarville School District removed the books from general circulation last year, claiming that the tales of wizards and spells would harm schoolchildren. The school board voted 3-2 to require students to obtain a parent’s permission before they could check the books out.

The move angered Billy Counts and his wife Mary Nell, who sued the board, fearing their daughter Dakota, a fourth-grader, would be stigmatized if she were identified as someone who read the “evil” books.

U.S. District Judge Jimm Larry Hendren granted the Counts’ request yesterday that the district not limit access to the four books in the series.

“The Cedarville School District is ... directed to return the books known as ‘the Harry Potter books’ to its library shelves, where they can be accessed without any restrictions other than those administrative restrictions that apply to all works of fiction in the libraries of the district,” Hendren wrote.

There was no immediate comment from the school district.

Scholastic, which publishes books for school markets, said its Harry Potter series teaches children about right and wrong.

“We’re proud to publish the Harry Potter books,” spokeswoman Judy Corman said. “We think they’re about good and evil, and we don’t believe in censorship.”

The Counts’ lawyer, Brian Meadors, said the judge granted everything his clients requested.

“We went to the federal courts seeking justice and the court gave us that release,” Meadors said yesterday. “We’re very happy about that. Everybody is just thrilled with the decision.”

The books chronicle the fictional adventures of young, bespectacled Harry and his wizard pals at the Hogwarts magic school as they battle Harry’s nemesis, the evil sorcerer Voldemort.

Last month, the neighboring Van Buren School Board gave the Counts permission to let their children, Dakota and Logan, transfer to one of its schools in the fall. Also last month, a group of national free-speech associations and children’s author Judy Blume filed a brief in support of the family.

The groups claimed that the Cedarville district’s move censored the books and trampled on the students’ right to receive information.

The brief also said removing the books from the open library shelves violated the First Amendment to the Constitution, restricting students’ ability to explore, to learn and to enjoy.

Last June, the Cedarville School Board had voted 3-2 to restrict access to the books after a parent, Angie Haney, complained about the content. Haney said the books are of little educational value and could lead children into witchcraft.

In their lawsuit, the Counts said: “Children carrying the book with them in the school will be known to be carrying the bad book.”

The lawsuit also claimed that the board’s decision undermined the school library committee’s rights to determine the suitability of material. The Cedarville Library Committee had voted 15-0 in May to keep the book series on the library shelves without restriction. Billy Ray Counts was on that committee.

Yesterday, before the judge issued his ruling, Cedarville librarian Estella Roberts said that if the district purchased the new book, it would be grouped with the others, away from the students.

“That will have to be in the office, with the others,” librarian Estella Roberts said.

The fifth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, is due June 21.

The four previous Harry Potter novels have worldwide sales of more than 190 million. The books have been published in at least 55 languages and distributed in more than 200 countries.


Previous
Put Harry Potter back on shelves, group asks
Cedarville, Ark., public school library took popular fantasy novels out of circulation. 03.04.03

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