A local minister’s effort to remove books dealing with vampires and the occult from the Young Adult section of the public library in Cleveland, Texas failed last week when the city council met to address the issue. In response to the challenge from Rev. Phillip Missick of King of Saints Tabernacle Church, Library Director Mary Merrell Cohn read the targeted books and reported feeling no temptation to delve into the dark arts as a result.
Missick had also complained about decorative items in the Young Adult section including replicas of Dobby the House Elf and the Sorting Hat (which he labeled “a demonic stuffed doll and a witch’s hat”) from the Harry Potter series, and a bunch of dried roses lying on a table. Cohn was particularly stung by the latter, explaining at the meeting that the roses were sent by her husband when he had to be out of town on their anniversary. Regarding the books themselves, she said:
After reading these books, which were merely fantasies, I personally did not have any desire to perform any immoral, dark or sinister acts. Of course, everyone has their own opinion after reading these books and others like them, but that is the point.
Cohn received support from free speech fans around the country, but also locally. Lt. Col. Robert Hunt of the Cleveland school district’s JROTC program sent a letter about the value of speculative fiction for children and teens:
My three children, as military dependents, have grown up around the world. Every three years or so, they would have to uproot and move with me somewhere else, leaving their friends and stability behind. One thing that helped them adjust to these many life changes was books such as the Harry Potter series. Through these books, they learned valuable concepts like loyalty, honesty, friendship and value of family. They also relied on their faith and on their family but the value of these books should not be underestimated.
Hunt also pointed out that free speech is a fundamental American value, saying that he has “worked too hard over the years defending my country and raising three great kids to stand by while this kind of action is proposed.”
While the books remain on the shelves, the mayor and city council members opted not to recognize Banned Books Week at the same meeting as had been planned, apparently feeling that the irony would be too deep. Mayor Niki Coats termed the timing “unfair.”
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.