A US judge has ordered Harry Potter books back on to an Arkansas school district’s library shelves, rejecting a claim that tales of wizards and spells could harm children.
Ruling in favour of a fourth-grader’s parents, US District Judge Jimm Larry Hendren ordered the Cedarville School District in western Arkansas to put the four books in JK Rowling’s popular series back in general circulation.
The district’s board drew wrath from national free-speech groups for its decision in June to require children 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.
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.
Billy and Mary Nell Counts said they feared their daughter Dakota would be stigmatised 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 pupils’ right to receive information.
“Everybody is just thrilled with the decision,” the couple’s 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 taught 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.