Harry Potter Beats His Foes - Again

Fort Smith, Ark., attorney Brian Meadors, who represented parents in the Cedarville school district, holds a Harry Potter book in front of the Cedarville High School campus in Cedarville, Ark., Tuesday, April 22, 2003. AP

A federal judge ordered Harry Potter books back onto an Arkansas school district's library shelves Tuesday, rejecting a school board's claim that tales of wizards and spells could harm school children.

Ruling in favor of a fourth-grader's parents, U.S. District Judge Jimm Larry Hendren ordered the Cedarville School District to put the four books in J.K. Rowling's popular series back in general circulation.

The district's board drew wrath from national free-speech groups for its June decision to require students to obtain parental permission to check out the books. The 3-2 decision, which overruled a unanimous decision by the district's library committee, came after a parent complained about the books.

The Harry Potter books have been assailed by some Christian groups for their themes of witchcraft. The American Library Association says the books were the most frequently challenged of 2002, but rarely did those challenges lead to restrictions or bans.

Plaintiffs Billy and Mary Nell Counts said they feared their daughter Dakota would be stigmatized if she were identified as someone who read books the district considered "evil."

First Amendment associations and children's author Judy Blume filed a brief in support of the couple last month. They claimed the Cedarville district was committing censorship and trampling on students' right to receive information.

"Everybody is just thrilled with the decision," the plaintiffs' lawyer, Brian Meadors, said.

The school district did not immediately return calls seeking comment. In depositions, the three board members who voted for the restrictions said they felt the Harry Potter books prompted children to disobey authority and pushed occult messages.

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 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. More than 190 million copies of the novels have been printed in at least 55 languages.

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


By Caryn Rousseau
  • Francie Grace

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