Arkansas School Board's Restrictions On Harry Potter Overturned

Americans United Praises Federal Judge For Rejecting Library Book Censorship

A federal court in Arkansas has properly dismissed an attempt by a school board to restrict access to the popular Harry Potter books, said Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

On April 22, U.S. District Judge Jimm Larry Hendren ordered the Cedarville School District to make the Potter books available for general circulation in school libraries. The ruling overturned an action of the Cedarville School Board, which voted 3-2 last year to require students to obtain a parent's permission to check the books out.

The Harry Potter book series is a runaway bestseller that deals with a wizard-training school and other fantasy elements common in children's literature. However, it has sparked a censorship campaign by some Christian fundamentalists who claim the works might lead youngsters into the occult.

According to the Southwest Times Record, Cedarville parent Angie Haney complained about the Potter books after her pastor at the Uniontown Assembly of God offered a series of sermons about witchcraft and satanic cults. The pastor of the church is also a member of the Cedarville School Board and voted for restricting student access to the books. According to Haney, the Potter series is a "starting place to learn witchcraft, sorcery and other satanic ideas."

Judge Hendren ruled that the school district must "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's ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by Cedarville parents, who argued that the school board action violated their daughter's constitutional rights. A group of free-speech and constitutional rights groups, including Americans United, filed a friend-of-the-court-brief calling on the court to overturn the school board's restriction. Groups that signed onto the brief included the Association of American Publishers, the Center for First Amendment Rights, the Freedom to Read Foundation, the Student Press Law Center and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. The popular, but frequently censored, author Judy Blume also joined the brief.

"This court has rescued Harry Potter from the clutches of religious hysteria," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "Instead of waving a magic wand, the judge waved the Constitution. In America, that's more than enough."

Judge Hendren ruled that school board members had improperly restricted access to the books "because of their shared belief that the books promote a particular religion."

"Regardless of the personal distaste with which these individuals regard 'witchcraft,' it is not properly within their power and authority as members of defendant's school board to prevent the students at Cedarville from reading about it, " Hendren held.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.