Obiter Dicta

Holy Hogwarts!

Devout Librarian Disapproves of Junior Wizard Dress-Up, Gets Dressed Down and Suspended

Posted Sep 1, 2008 8:00 AM CDT
By Brian Sullivan

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With the Harry Potter hype ma­chine running at full tilt, the public library in Poplar Bluff, Mo., pulled out all the stops at a nighttime event in July 2007 when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was unveiled. In addition to the youthful target audience dressing up as characters in the book, library staffers were expected to do the same.

Some say the Potter books are a useful tool for encouraging kids to read. Others claim they popularize witchcraft and the practice of the occult. Count Deborah Smith among the latter.

Smith, 47, of Poplar Bluff is a Southern Baptist, and she was one of the library staffers scheduled to work the event. When she declined, citing conflict with her religious beliefs, she was given a 10-day suspension without pay, says attorney Anthony Rothert of the American Civil Lib­erties Union of Eastern Missouri.

“She believes promotion of the occult to be sinful, especially to children,” Rothert says. When Smith returned after the suspension, he says, “her hours went down and she was given more arduous job duties. They knew she had health problems, including a pacemaker.”

Smith filed a lawsuit in July in federal court in Cape Girardeau, alleging violations of her civil, First Amendment and 14th Amendment rights, as well as her right to freely practice her religion. She is seeking unspecified damages.

The Poplar Bluff city attorney, D. Keith Henson, declined to comment, saying only that “the case is making its way through the judicial process.”

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