Harry Potter won't vanish from Ga. county's school libraries

By The Associated Press
12.14.06

ATLANTA — A mother who fought to ban Harry Potter books from her children’s suburban Atlanta school district is considering an appeal after the Georgia Board of Education voted today to keep the books on the county’s library shelves.

The board members voted without discussion to uphold the Gwinnett County school board’s decision to deny Laura Mallory’s request to remove the best-selling books from school libraries.

Mallory has worked for more than a year to ban the popular books from Gwinnett schools, claiming the popular fiction series is an attempt to indoctrinate children in religious witchcraft.

“It’s mainstreaming witchcraft in a subtle and deceptive manner, in a children-friendly format,” she said.

Gwinnett school officials have argued that the books are good tools to encourage children to read and to spark creativity and imagination. Banning all books with references to witchcraft would mean classics like MacBeth and Cinderella would have to go, they said.

Mallory, a mother of four from Loganville, questions the educational value of the fiction series.

“The kind of stuff in these books — murder and greed and violence. Why do they have to read them in school? If parents wanted to get these books, they could get them in bookstores,” she said.

An appeal to the Superior Court would likely allow Mallory to bolster her case with expert testimony and witnesses, which she said the state board had banned her from using. “My hands were tied, completely,” she said.

The Harry Potter series, penned by J.K. Rowling, is no stranger to controversy. The books have been challenged 115 times since 2000, making them the most challenged texts of the 21st Century, according to the American Library Association.

The challenges most often claim that the series encourages children to question adult authority and promotes witchcraft, said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the deputy director for the association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

“If you start removing books because they offer witchcraft as a viable alternative to Christianity, you’d lose a lot of classic literature,” she said. “Which is why when we talk about challenging of books, we encourage a holistic reading of the book, to look at the book as a whole — not just excerpts.”

Court battles over the books have been messy.

In one of the most high-profile legal battles, an Arkansas federal judge ruled in 2003 that a rural school district could not force children to present the librarian with written parental permission to check out the books. The Cedarville School District’s board kept the books under lock and key after it decided the series fostered rebellion and encouraged witchcraft.

Although Mallory has yet to decide whether to appeal the case, she said she already has contacted an expert witness. If she doesn’t decide to pursue her argument, she still hopes her protest will prompt others to take another look at the series.

“If even one parent or one child has looked into this more closely, it’s worth it,” she said.