"Harry Potter" Series Tops List of Banned Books in Texas, According to ACLU Report

September 20, 2002 12:00 am

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AUSTIN, TX -The popular “Harry Potter” books by J.K. Rowling were the top target of censors during the 2001-2002 school year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas said today in its sixth annual report on banned books.

“When public schools remove a book from their shelves, they close a door for school kids,” said Will Harrell, Executive Director of the ACLU of Texas. “When they ban books, they censor ideas and stifle education.”

The ACLU of Texas and the Texas Library Association co-sponsored the annual banned book report in conjunction with the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, which is observed this year from September 21-28.

According to the report, “Free People Read Freely,” 218 challenges were issued to 134 books, including the Holy Bible and Webster’s Dictionary. Of the 218 challenges, 38 books were banned; 57 had their use or access restricted; 22 remained, but students were allowed to choose alternatives; 16 are awaiting final decision on their status; and 85 were retained without restriction.

This year, due to the high number of complaints about the “Harry Potter” books, the number of objections to “mysticism and paganism” surpassed the number of challenges to books for “profanity or inappropriate language.” According to the report, “the number of challenges was probably inflated by the debut of a movie based on one of the books.” Several districts reported that parents complained after seeing the movie, but admitted they had not read the book.

The report said that the number of book challenges in Texas schools had increased during the past five years, but that the percentage of books actually removed from classrooms or libraries had dropped.

“For the past 20 years, Banned Books Week has provided an opportunity to celebrate our freedom to read, speak, think and express ourselves freely,” said Patricia H. Smith, Executive Director of the Texas library group.

“In the post-9/11 environment, Americans of all ages and backgrounds are rediscovering the meaning of words like democracy, freedom, citizenship and community,” Smith added. “This year, Banned Books Week is an opportunity to celebrate core American values.”

The list of books banned in Texas public schools in 2001-2002 includes Tom Clancy’s “Patriot Games,” David Guterson’s “Snow Falling on Cedars” and a reference book on U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun that was challenged by a parent who disapproved of the book’s discussion of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling on abortion.

In the Godley school district, school officials defended keeping Webster’s Dictionary in the high school library after someone complained that it included definitions of offensive words. Other well-known challenged books included Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,”” William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and “Night” by Elie Wiesel.

The ACLU of Texas’s banned book report is compiled annually from information provided by more than 1,200 Texas public schools in response to a request under the Texas Public Information Act. The report is online at http://www.bannedbooks.info/report.htm

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