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Christian Censorship of Harry Potter

Schools, Libraries, and Free Speech

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The Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling are not only popular with children, they are popular with Christian censors as well. Harry Potter books have consistently been among the most challenged books in schools and libraries for the past several years, according to the American Library Association. Why do so many Christians object to Harry Potter? How have conservative Christians attempted to censor the Harry Potter books and prevent kids from reading them?

The American Library Association defines a “challenge” to a book as any attempt to “remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.” Harry Potter books topped the list of most challenged books for four years in a row: 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002. It was the second most challenged book in 2003 and dropped off the list in 2004. The Harry Potter series managed to be the 7th most challenged books for the entire decade of 1990 through 2000.

Clearly, the Christian Right is upset by Harry Potter — these challenges are not coming from leftists concerned with the depictions of women or families, they are coming from religious conservatives who are concerned with the depictions of witchcraft and morality. Parents and religious leaders all over America have tried to get libraries to remove the books and classes to stop using them for literacy or other educational programs.

Here are some of the ways in which Christians have sought to censor the Harry Potter books:

In November 1999, Zeeland, Michigan, school superintendent Gary L. Feenstra instructed teachers to stop using the Harry Potter book for read-aloud time and school librarians to remove it from the shelves. The book wasn’t banned outright, but access and usage was restricted. Future purchases of more books was also prohibited.

In York, Pennsylvania, Deb DiEugenio tried to get the Eastern York School District to ban the Harry Potter books from its schools. According to DiEugenio, the books were "against my daughter's constitution, it's evil, it's witchcraft. I'm not paying taxes to teach my child witchcraft." Tony Leanza, a pastor and elementary school teacher who joined DiEugenio, argued that the Harry Potter books promote Wicca, a religion, and that therefore the presence of the books violates the separation of church and state.

In July 2002 in Cromwell, Connecticut, parents tried to get the Harry Potter books taken out of their middle school. They claimed the books promoted witchcraft and portrayed Christians badly. Dr. J. Michael Bates, a local pastor, said that even people without children in the schools should join the protest against Harry Potter books.

A Florida library stopped giving out certificates for Harry Potter's wizadry school as part of a promotion of reading because of parental objections. According to one parent, "If they are going to pass out witchcraft certificates they should also promote the Bible and pass out certificates of righteousness.”

Teachers at the Birkenhead Primary School in Auckland, New Zealand, were prohibited from reading the Harry Potter books aloud after a parent complained that they promoted witchcraft and the occult.

Teachers in the Durham District School, east of Toronto, Ontario, were instructed to only read from the Harry Potter books to their classes if the parents of all the students were unanimously in favor of it. Otherwise, other books must be used — but no other books were given the same restriction.

The Christ Community Church in Alamogordo, New Mexico held a book burning on December 30, 2001. Pastor Jack Brock's "holy bonfire" burned not just Harry Potter books, but also music, videos, and other objectionable material. Hundred participated in the event.

Even the ALA’s list of banned books has itself been censored. In 1999, reading teacher Jeffry Newton was told that he could no longer post an ALA pamphlet of banned books outside his classroom door. He wanted to make students aware of censorship issues and was in turn censored for it.

Most libraries and schools have instituted “opt-out” policies which allow parents to exclude their children from being exposed to material they object to. This has been an important factor in the decline in the overall number of challenges to material in schools, including challenges to Harry Potter books.

At the same time, though, it’s also likely that teachers and librarians have engaged in self-censorship. One of the dangers of the protests launched by the Christian Right isn’t so much that the government will step in to enforce their standards, but that people will privately enforce their standards merely to avoid conflicts; as a consequence, everyone loses out on the opportunity to be exposed to ideas merely because one religious group objects for religious reasons.

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