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Do the 'Harry Potter' Books Cast an Evil Spell?Aired July 7, 2000 - 3:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "'What's that?' he snarled."
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BOBBIE BATTISTA, HOST: Muggles are taking sides, for and against the hottest thing going in "kiddy lit," "Harry Potter."
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J.K. ROWLING, AUTHOR, "HARRY POTTER" SERIES: There are no words strong enough to say how surprised I am.
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FAWN GORDON, SCHOOL LIBRARIAN: I think it has so much appeal for children as well as adults, because I think there's something in it that we can all identify with. This boy, who really was a nobody, who becomes somebody.
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BATTISTA: But does Harry have a dark side?
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BARBARA MARCUS, SCHOLASTIC BOOKS: These books are about Harry Potter and attending the school of Hogwarts Wizardry and Witchcraft.
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REV. LORI JO SCHEPPERS, TROUBLED YOUTH COUNSELOR: As we expose our kids to the occult, we expose our kids to blood, to violence, and desensitize them to that. What I can expect is those kids, as they mature, have a very good chance of becoming another Dylan Klebold and those guys in Columbine.
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BATTISTA: Just kid stuff?
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's all magic.
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BATTISTA: Or do the "Harry Potter" books cast an evil spell, luring young minds into the devil's workshop?
Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to TALKBACK LIVE.
Well, the excitement is building. You can almost see the brooms flying as "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" casts its spell of anticipation.
One hour from now, the clock strikes midnight. That's the magic hour in England, where the first copies go on sale. And as that hour approaches, we'll go to a London bookstore and we'll talk to all the muggles waiting in line.
But right now, we'll check in with CNN's correspondent Martin Savidge, who's at a chapter 11 bookstore right here in Atlanta. And Martin, as we understand it, most of the bookstores in the area -- and I'm sure across the country or the world, for that matter -- have big plans for tonight.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That they do, Bobbie. This is a bookstore, like many of them across the country, that plan to be open at midnight tonight: not the typical business hours, but then, as you mentioned, this is not a typical book.
"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," book four in the series, is monumental in the making, not only with its marketing but also with a little bit of publishing magic and mystery. Books are on the shelves behind us, but they are not "the Harry Potter" book. They are the first three in the series that came out. We don't want to give the publisher a heart attack. The books still remain wrapped up tightly sealed under security tape in this store and in many stores across the country. But they do have big plans.
Mike Kyser is the general manager of the store here. He joins us now. We did not get him out of bed.
This is actually how they are planning to dress for tonight's party.
Tell us about it.
MICHAEL KYSER, MANAGER, CHAPTER 11 BOOKSTORE: All 13 of our stores here in Atlanta are planning -- well, Atlanta and the suburbs -- are planning at 11 o'clock we're going to open up our stores, we're having a pajama party. Every store has something going on. There's going to be food and drink, probably some fun, a raffle for some Harry Potter stuff: hats, I think. And we're also at midnight counting down, and at midnight we will open up all the boxes and start handing out the books to people who've already bought them and selling the books for those who haven't.
SAVIDGE: Any idea -- what are the numbers that you're running with presale?
KYSER: Oh, right now we've probably sold -- well, originally I was given the number 3,000. I'm sure that that has changed dramatically because that was last week.
SAVIDGE: And usually a good presale would be several hundred books.
KYSER: Yes. Our biggest event ever before this was probably I guess Patti Labelle or one of the...
BATTISTA: I think we lost -- no offense to Patti Labelle there. I think we lost the live shot real quickly. But Marty, thanks very much for joining us, and there's a lot of kids looking forward to that tonight.
You can join Martin online to chat about the new "Harry Potter" book, by the way, at 4:00 Eastern on CNN.com/chat.
On the phone with us is Desiree Craver. She is a 15-year-old who came across "The Goblet of Fire" last Friday at a local Wal-Mart in New Jersey. She finished the 700-plus-page book by Monday, we might add.
And Desiree, as we all know, stores weren't supposed to be selling that book before tomorrow. So how did this happen?
DESIREE CRAVER, "HARRY POTTER" FAN: I was shopping with my mom Friday night and we were just looking around, and it was there, so we picked it up and we bought it.
BATTISTA: And you didn't have any trouble getting it through...
CRAVER: It wouldn't check out right away because I guess it hadn't been entered yet. So it wouldn't scan automatically. They had to like punch the numbers and stuff.
BATTISTA: And they never caught on to it?
CRAVER: I don't know. I guess the lady was just nice and she thought there was something wrong.
BATTISTA: OK. So you took this book home and you read the whole thing over the weekend.
BATTISTA: What did you think?
CRAVER: It was the best one so far, in my opinion. BATTISTA: How did you read 700 pages over one weekend? That's pretty awesome.
CRAVER: I don't know. Once I start a book I don't want to put it down until it's done.
BATTISTA: You know what, I've got a couple of questions from young people in the audience. I don't know how much you can divulge. So you be the judge of that, OK?
BATTISTA: But we'll go to just a couple of questions.
Mishi (ph), go ahead.
MISHI: I wanted to know who died.
CRAVER: It's a very important question in the book, and we know the person. But if I tell you, it will spoil the surprise. You have to read it to find out. But Harry knows him.
Abby (ph), go ahead.
ABBY: Is it better than the other three books?
CRAVER: Yes. In my opinion it's a lot better.
BATTISTA: Joel (ph).
JOEL: Do they have the same characters?
CRAVER: We have a lot of the same characters, but there's also a lot more new ones.
BATTISTA: Another question down here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the first chapter the goodest chapter?
That would be best.
CRAVER: The first chapter is like a little bit boring, but like once it got started going then it got better.
BATTISTA: And Michelle.
MICHELLE: Are most of the old characters the same?
CRAVER: Well, yes. There's a lot of the old characters. It's just they're more mature now. Like they're all a year older and they're becoming like more teenagers.
BATTISTA: OK. Lisa.
LISA: Does it have a lot of witchcraft?
CRAVER: Yes. There's lots of new spells.
BATTISTA: Desiree, we should point out that you're 15 years old.
BATTISTA: Is that a little bit old to be reading "Harry Potter" or no?
CRAVER: Well, I've talked to a lot of people about this, and I've had like people tell me that they've read them, like people who have talked to me, adults. But yes, I guess it is a little old.
BATTISTA: You are old enough, however, to talk about the controversy. I mean, what do you think about the controversy over the witchcraft issue?
CRAVER: I don't think that -- it's just like nonsense, I guess. Everybody I've talked to who read the book knows the difference between like right and wrong, and they know that they can't do spells or anything. And it's just fantasy and it's fun to read. So I don't see any sense to take it off any shelves or schools.
BATTISTA: Lest you think that only children read the "Harry Potter" book, Bob in the audience has a question.
BOB: Yes. There's purportedly a romantic interest in the book with Harry falling in love. Is it with Hermione or with some other character that's introduced?
CRAVER: I think that the author said it wasn't Hermione, but he knows the person and he's known her through all the books. And yes, he does find -- he likes somebody.
BATTISTA: Shulp (ph).
SHULP: When other "Harry Potter" books come out, would you read them?
CRAVER: Yes. I can't wait until they come out.
BATTISTA: OK. One more here from Jason.
JASON: How good is the book?
CRAVER: It's my favorite one so far. I plan on reading it again.
BATTISTA: Why do you say it's your favorite one so far, Desiree? CRAVER: Because there's like a big surprise ending.
BATTISTA: Oh, big surprise ending. OK. We won't ask anything more, we don't want to spoil it. But thanks very much for joining us. Appreciate it.
CRAVER: Thank you for having me.
BATTISTA: We've got to take a quick break, and in just a few moments, "Harry Potter" and the seduction of evil. We'll talk about it.
Harry Potters books have been released in 110 countries and 40 languages, including Faeroese, Serbian, Hebrew, Thai and Indonesian. More than 5 million English copies will be released this weekend, roughly twice the printings John Grisham and Tom Clancy receive.
BATTISTA: All right, let me do a couple of e-mails that came into our message board.
"I am a Christian. I also write fantasy novels and short stories. I have no trouble with my faith or that of my kids who like to read Harry Potter. I know that I have given them the strong moral basis they need to drawn a line between fantasy and reality."
And another one says, "The Harry Potter books are based on figures normally associated with dark magic. These things are all too common already in our society, and we do not need more of it. You can write stories with magical fables without the black magic."
Now in case you don't know, Harry Potter cast spells, rides a broom wears an invisibility cloak and dwells in an enchanted world where even magic won't protect you from hurt and hard times. But do witchcraft and magic belong in the classroom? Is it akin to teaching religion?
Joining us now is Pastor Fletcher Brothers, host of "Victory Today," a daily radio and television program. He is also founder and director of Freedom Village USA, a home for troubled teens. Also with us, Chris Finan, president of American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. His organization started a national anti-censorship campaign once the Harry Potter books came under attack. The Web site is mugglesforharrypotter.org.
Pastor, let me start with you. What is so wrong with these books?
PASTOR FLETCHER BROTHERS, FREEDOM VILLAGE USA: Well, Bobbie, I feel like, first of all, that Chris and I might be just a little bit overdressed. We should have come to the studios in our bathrobes. But the long and the short of these books, and listening to Desiree and all the children there that you interviewed, certainly it is a tremendous phenomenon. But the bottom line is there's constitutional issue here which everybody would like to skirt off to the side because of the popularity of these books. But the bottom line is that witchcraft and Wicca, which are part of these books, all of these books, nobody has refuted that issue anywhere along the line, is a religion.
BATTISTA: Wait, Wicca's not part of the book.
BROTHERS: Well, it is part of the book because Wicca in...
BATTISTA: I thought -- that religion is not referred to in the book.
BROTHERS: Well, let me just tell you that they refer to it themselves on their own Web page, because they say the terms "Wicca" and witchcraft are interchangeable. And there are some subtle distinctions, but witchcraft and Wicca are interchangeable. That's according to their own Web site, so if they want to change that, that's up to them.
But the bottom line is in 1972, the church of witchcraft fought hard and won the right to be a religion. Now they went back to court in 1985 to reinforce that.
Now the IRS says witchcraft is a religion -- and who wants to argue with them. Bottom line: We've got a religion here, and for 37 years we have lived under this myth of the separation of church and state. And, therefore, religion does not belong in the classroom. Any pastor, any person involved in Christian work can tell you who's ever tried to do anything with the public schools, most administrators would agree that the bottom line is, if it's religious, it cannot be in our schools.
Witchcraft is a religion, plus nothing, minus nothing.
BATTISTA: Well, I'm confused on that, too, because I had looked up the church of Wicca Web site, and right at the top they say that they do not like the terms "witch" or "witchcraft" and not to use them in reference to their church.
BROTHERS: Well, this is the church...
BATTISTA: So I think there must be several schools Web sites.
BROTHERS: This is the church -- this is the official Web site of the Wicca Church and School of Wicca. If you look at -- there's a publication put out by the Church of Witchcraft, questions and answers about witchcraft, the religion, it says, the religion of witchcraft.
Here's the Wicca Web site, and it says the old religion. So there's no question. Look, I understand...
BATTISTA: Well let me have Chris weigh in on this. Is this a constitutional issue in your mind, Chris? I mean...
CHRIS FINAN, AMERICAN BOOKSELLERS FOR FREE EXPRESSION: No, I think it's irrelevant. I think what Wicca stands for has nothing to do with what J.K. Rowling is writing about.
This is not a work of theology. These aren't books about religion, these are books of fantasy. They are not books that are intended to proselytize, they're books that are intended to educate and entertain.
And finally, they're not books about the next world. You know, they're about this world. It's about how Harry gets on in the present. And I simply don't agree that there's church-state issue here at all.
BATTISTA: Let me read a statement quickly since we're talking about the author and she's not doing interviews. She referred to this issue recently in an interview, and she said:
"I truly am bemused that anyone who has read the books could think that I am a proponent of the occult in any serious way. I don't believe in witchcraft in the sense that they are talking about at all. Magic is a source of great fun, drama. Magic is going to be a theme of children's literature as long as the human race exists."
So how can -- Pastor, how can you interpret things in the book that the author did not intend?
BROTHERS: Well, it's not a matter of interpreting, Bobbie, at all. And, of course, when we go to intent, no one other than J.K. Rowling knows what her intent is, nobody knows what all the symbolisms are, and it would be unfair for me or anyone else to try and get inside the mind of J.K. Rowling if she wants to say, this is what I believe, this what I'm putting forth. But the bottom line is, these books are laced from beginning to end with witchcraft, and their popularity and how many people love them and the fact that kids are reading, man, those are all great things, wonderful...
BATTISTA: You know what? Let's take...
BROTHERS: But the bottom line is, we're still talking about a religion.
BATTISTA: Let's take a couple of examples then, OK? Because I think people will be a little confused about what you mean by that.
BATTISTA: I'll read a section out of the book and you tell me, you know, what your problem is with it. Here's the section out of "The Prisoner of Azkaban":
"You can exist without your soul, you know, as long as your brain and your heart are still working. But you'll have no sense of self anymore, no memory, no anything. There's no chance at all of recovery. You'll just exist. As an empty shell."
BROTHERS: Well, first of all, that is contrary to what the Bible teaches very plainly about the soul and the spirit. But again, we're propagating a doctrine there, and it is a doctrine of witchcraft. It is part of their ritual just as much as Harry in the books drinks unicorn blood. That is part of the witchcraft ritual.
So bottom line, in every interview or in every article that's been written, your news programs and whatever, Harry Potter is wizardry. Harry Potter is witchcraft. Nobody has ever tried to deny that.
BATTISTA: Now, but -- see, we were talking about it's a matter of interpretation, though. When I look at that same thing and I think that what she's saying is that you can...
BROTHERS: When you mentioned the words...
BATTISTA: ... exists without a soul.
BROTHERS: But when you talk about that, you are talking about a belief. You are talking about a religious belief of witchcraft.
BATTISTA: But wait. Doesn't Christianity believe, though, that you cannot exist without a soul? I mean, that you are an empty shell?
BROTHERS: No, Christianity does not believe that. Christianity does not believe that. But the bottom line is, whether we -- Bobbie, whether you believe this, whether I believe this, is totally immaterial. We have, and unless you live in the present White House, we have 280 million of us that have to abide by the laws. And the law is that religion cannot be brought into the classroom, and that is my beef.
Look, I'm not -- I didn't kill Santa Claus. I'm not a bad guy. I don't advocate that we ought to censor these books, I mean, Chris and his bookstore, God bless him, sell everything he can sell. That's the free-enterprise system. J.K. Rowling has the right to write anything she wants to write, just like I have the right, when I write my books, to write whatever I want to write. That is our rights. But when take you that right -- if I cannot bring this book, which is one of mine, "Teenagers, Someone Does Care," into a public classroom -- I have teenagers, I have groups of teenagers in the public school every day who used to be drug addicts, who to used to be involved in gangs, who used to do a lot of different things, who tried to commit suicide. Now they can go in there and say I used to did this, I used to do this, I used to do this, but they cannot cross that line and talk about religion. That is prohibited.
Now either we're going to level this playing field, and if Harry can come in, Jesus can come in, or we're going to have to say, Harry, you have to stay at home, every parent that wants their child to on read the books, go buy them, let them read them, that's fine. My beef, and only beef, is that these books do not belong in the classrooms of America under our present system as long as for 37 years God has not been allowed to be in there, Jesus has not been allowed to be in there.
BATTISTA: Let me go to the audience real quickly. A comment or question from Karen.
KAREN: Hi. I just have two questions for you. One, you say you can't talk about religion in the classroom, but look at the Holocaust. You can't study history without talking about religion. When you deal with a Holocaust, of course you have to deal with what Judaism is. And my second question is, have you ever read any of the books the by C.S. Lewis, "The Chronicles of Narnia." He, C.S. Lewis, wrote many religious books, he's a theologian, and he developed a whole fantasy series. It's similar.
POTTER: Yes, I've read C.S. Lewis' books, absolutely.
KAREN: So would you ban C.S. Lewis' book?
POTTER: If we're going to draw the line, then we've got to draw the line, OK, and bottom line at this point, the line has been drawn, and it's drawn for 37 years, and there's nobody in your audience or watching on the program, Bobbie, that does not know we have this myth, separation church and state. Now, we've got a series of books that advocate and promote witchcraft.
BATTISTA: I've got to take a quick break at this time. We'll be back in just a moment. And as we do, we invite you to engage in a little Internet magic and take part in TALKBACK LIVE's viewer vote at cnn.com/TALKBACK.
Today's question: Should Harry Potter books be banned from schools?
We'll be right back.
BATTISTA: Children interested in auditioning for the upcoming Harry Potter movie must be British and between the ages of 9 and 11. Candidates should send a picture and a videotape of themselves, stating their age, telling a joke and reading a favorite page from one of the Harry Potter books. The mailing address for the casting call can be found on our Web site -- cnn.com/TALKBACK.
Let me get a phone call in here while I can. Peter in Louisiana, go ahead.
PETER: Hi. I'd like as a Catholic priest respectfully disagree with Pastor Brothers on his perspective on this. I'd like to make two points about Harry Potter books. First of all, is their use of witchcraft is no different from a vast number of children's books, going from the Grimm fairy tale right through George McDonald, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tollkien, many of them great Christian writers. There is always in children's mind an emphasis on the magical things they don't understand. Just look at young kids at a fireworks display and the oohs and aahs on their faces. I see nothing objectionable in that. I don't believe it promotes Wicca or witchcraft as religion in any way.
Secondly, I find the books wonderfully valuable to teach young children about the fact that there is evil in the world. Wait until you've held a 4-year-old kid in your arms who's dying from a gunshot fired by someone who never even knew his name. Wait until you've had to stand at the bedside of a 7-year-old girl dying of brain cancer and explain to her siblings that, you know, they're not going to see their sister again, that this is a dark and evil thing. That happens. That's the real world, and all of those things have happened to me.
And I find that kids who've read Harry Potter, they come and they ask questions about the dark side and the evil, and they are encouraged by the fact the good, as in Harry Potter himself, always comes out on top, and it gives them a chance to talk about the darker things of life and perhaps come to terms with them in as painless a way as possible. I don't see that in any way negative. In fact, I think the Harry Potter books are wonderful. I have my own copies, and I would strongly recommend them to every school in the country. They're magnificent.
BATTISTA: Father, thank you -- Pastor Brothers.
BROTHERS: Well, I respectfully disagree with Peter. Of course I disagree with the pope on a lot of things. But the bottom line is if Peter wants to share war stories, I've dealt with teenagers now for 27 years, and we do live in a realm, Bobbie, of the extreme. Not every kid who gets involved in the things that Harris and Klebold got involved in are going to go in and shoot up a school. In the same token, not every kid that gets involved in Harry Potter books is going to take it to anything further than just a fantasy book having a wonderful time and all the rest of it.
But the bottom line is, we still have to go back to this issue, and oftentimes...
BATTISTA: That is a meteorical leap from Harry Potter to Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, it really is.
BROTHERS: Nope, Bobbie, it's a bottom line -- what we've got is a bottom-line issue that is going to have to probably be resolved in the courts. But Wicca, witchcraft is a religion. Now there is no escaping that. We can try and talk about all the hoopla and the wonderful things that are happening with children reading, and good knows, I mean, I deal with kids every day; I'm glad they're reading. But the bottom line is you've still got a religion being promoted, and...
BATTISTA: Well, in your mind.
BROTHERS: Not in my mind, in the fact.
BATTISTA: Because a lot of people disagree with you, I'm guessing. Well, let me ask Chris...
BROTHERS: Bobbie, there's never a story done that does not focus on the witchcraft and the wizardry of these books.
BATTISTA: Historically speaking, Chris, though, if this gets all the way to the Supreme Court, they don't usually like bans on books.
FINAN: No, that's quite true. It hasn't even made it into any...
BROTHERS: They banned a bunch of them in the public schools.
FINAN: This case hasn't made night any court, and I think the reason the pastor and I both know is he is so stretched the definition of religion that it really could apply, as the father was just saying, to any book of fairy stories or any book that contains any kind of magical element. And that's what really most concerning about what the pastor's talking about, because if you follow that logic, you are going to take out of the school libraries and the schoolrooms of this country all the books that kids want to read, because they're interesting, they engage them. So what are they going to be left with? Books that they don't want to read. And what's going to be the result of that? Kids aren't going to read. So I think we're really focusing on a very narrow issue and losing sight of the real danger of censorship here.
BROTHERS: Nobody is talking about censorship, Chris.
FINAN: And censorship is not -- we are talking about the schools.
BROTHERS: That's your word, not mine. Well, we're we not talking about censoring -- wait a minute, Chris. We are not talking about censoring them in book schools stores, we're not talking about censoring anything in homes, we're not talking about taken away from a parent the right to buy these book or children to read them or any of that; what we are talking about is an issue that for 37 years has been on the forefront, there is no denying it, the separation of church and state, anything that has to do with religion.
Now when you talk about taking these books out of the libraries and other books having to go out and children and making comparisons, I hear every day from people who want to compare these books to "The Wizard of Oz" and Peter Pan. Look, that's like trying to compare "Gunsmoke" to "Freddy Krueger." Look, bottom line, we've got a wizard here. We've got books that are totally about witchcraft. The little girl, Desiree, bless her heart, when she asked about the book, she said, "i learned a whole bunch of new spells." We're not talking about "The Wizard of Oz."
BATTISTA: You don't think that a 15-year-old think that she's going to go out and use a spell like it's going to work, do you? She's knows it is fantasy, pastor. That's the point, she knows it fantasy.
BROTHERS: Wait a minute, Bobbie, this is where you challenge me, you challenge me about this thing of taking it to the extreme. I mentioned Harris and Klebold. No, I don't think every kid is going to do this, but there's going to be some.
BATTISTA: We'll be back in just a second.
BATTISTA: We are back.
And joining us quickly is CNN correspondent Richard Blystone at the Waterstone's Bookstore in London, England.
Richard, what is going on there? It's getting close to the witching hour, if you will.
RICHARD BLYSTONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Three and a half hours, Bobbie, here, and we're on Piccadilly, right in the center of London at Waterstone's Bookstore, as you said. You see a display of "Harry Potter" books behind me. And in just in three and half hour, the seventy young people, average age 10, who are having a slumber party on the sixth floor above us, will be part of the test of whether this is all hype about Harry Potter or the biggest publishing even since Gutenberg.
I have with me Stephen Frogget (ph). Now Stephen has got -- first, we'll show the T-shirt, Stephen. It's an "I Waited for Harry" T-shirt. Stephen is 12 years old, and unlike a lot of the kids, he had the luxury of actually living in a castle. Tell us about that.
STEPHEN FROGGET: Well, my dad's a (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and I live in the Tower of London, because that is where he works.
BLYSTONE: How do you like living in that kind of place?
FROGGET: It's kind of cool. I like it.
BLYSTONE: OK. How many "Harry Potter" books have you read?
FROGGET: I have read two.
BLYSTONE: And how many times have you read them?
BLYSTONE: So what do you like about Harry Potter?
FROGGET: I like his wizardry and the way he goes to school, and just really has magic and what gifts he's got.
BLYSTONE: What some kids were telling us earlier that they thought Harry Potter is a little bit old-fashioned. Do you find him that way?
FROGGET: No, because he never really goes out of fashion, because you can read the book once, and you can read it again, and you can still find it interesting, and you want to learn about his past, his future, and it's a very interesting stories, because there is a lot happening, and there's a lot going on, like mysteries and fun, and just lots of stuff like that.
BLYSTONE: Do you like the humor in it? Do you like the violence? What do you like best? FROGGET: Probably the humor. It's funny. But not in all parts. Some parts it's quite sad, because he's not allowed to do any homework or magic at his house, because his uncle Vernon don't like it, and they don't like the word "magic" being said, because it scares him, his cousin.
BLYSTONE: So, if you like anybody who reads a book, I guess, often thinks they might if they had a chance, they would change the plot, change a character, something like that. Would you change anything?
FROGGET: Yes, may be I would, where...
BATTISTA: We can still hear them but we lost the signal from London, unfortunately. He was cute. We loved the accent.
On the phone with us is Jim Camenga. He is a communications specialist and a district spokesman for Zeeland public schools in Zeeland, Michigan. That school had originally placed some restrictions on the "Harry Potter" books last November.
Mr. Camenga, what decisions were made last December? What restrictions did you come up with on the book?
JIM CAMENGA, ZEELAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS: The superintendent put these restrictions in effect. He basically said that the books will in the library but they will be at the librarian's desk. And kids who wanted to read the book would need to bring a permission slip from their parents. He also said that there would be no read-aloud of the books in Zeeland classrooms -- this would be elementary and middle school classrooms -- and at that point said that future books beyond book three would not be purchased.
BATTISTA: OK. Now, then everything changed in May, right? Most of those restrictions were withdrawn?
CAMENGA: That's correct. There was quite a bit of political -- rather public dissent on the issue. So a committee was formed, half of parents and half of teachers that took a long look at the three books. They made sure they read all the books. And they came up with a plan that cut back some of those restrictions: namely, that the books would be on the shelves in all elementary- and middle-school libraries without restrictions, but there would still be no real-aloud of the books in kindergarten through fifth grade, but kids could still use them for book reports. Real-alouds would be and are allowed in the middle-school grades.
BATTISTA: And how's that working out for you?
CAMENGA: Well, pretty well. You know, the books, of course, are always off the shelves in our library, and what needs to be determined this summer is for our librarians to meet and read book four and see what they want to do with it.
BATTISTA: All right, Jim Camenga, thank you very much for joining us. Let me go to the audience quickly here and Nighton (ph). Is it Nighton?
NIPPON (ph): Yes, Nippon. I wanted to say that there is a difference between Harry Potter's book and the Bible. The Bible is a work of religion whereas Harry Potter's book is a work of fiction. Nobody really believes that it truly happened. And so -- in that sense, it's OK to use it in the classroom as a work of literature rather than as a work of religion.
I do want to separate very clearly between the two of them. And I think I disagree with you, pastor, in that sense.
BROTHERS: I understand that. Bobbie -- Bobbie, the Book -- the Book of Mormon is a book of fiction, too, but I think if your child or any of the parents in that audience right now, if their child came home from school and said, "Guess what, mom? Today we read the Book of Mormon and tonight I need to do a report on it, and we're going to read some more of it tomorrow," I guarantee you that they'd beat a path down to that school and say no way.
BATTISTA: Pastor, we just happen to have some Mormons in the audience...
BROTHERS: All right.
BATTISTA: And I think that was a bit offensive.
BROTHERS: Well, they can believe...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a Mormon and that was -- pastor, that was a little offensive to me, because I personally don't believe that the Book of Mormon is a work of fiction.
BROTHERS: Then you believe your book and witchcraft people...
Wait a minute now. Hold it. Hold it.
Here -- Bobbie, this is exactly what the issue cuts down to. I believe the Bible, she believes the Book of Mormon. Witches believe the book of witchcraft and they are touting these books, and they are the greatest things since peanut butter as far as the witches are concerned.
BATTISTA: I have not seen any endorsements from the Church of Wicca for these books.
BROTHERS: Oh, man. The Internet -- the Internet is full of them. They're talking about the fact that upwards to 200 people have contacted them about finding out more about Wicca because of the "Harry Potter" series. Now that is very...
BATTISTA: Well, you know what I've decided, I think that you can find anything you want on the Internet. Isn't that true? That is true.
BROTHERS: I would not doubt that.
BATTISTA: So we'll agree on that. We'll agree on that. And I've got to take a break real quickly. We'll continue in a moment.
BATTISTA: Let me go to Sandy in the audience first here.
SANDY: My basic thing with this is that this is a choice that you make with your own child. I'm a born again Christian, believer of Jesus Christ, and I grew up reading Stephen King books. And I didn't read them as a young child, but in my 20s I started reading them. And as I get closer with my walk with God and my spirituality, I am tending to be convicted of these books and they feel wrong to me.
And so what I want to say I -- from what I've heard today about the books -- and I don't know anything about them -- I wouldn't let my daughter read them or read them to her, or let her read them without me reading them first. But from what I've heard today, I wouldn't.
SANDY: What I've heard today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. This is directed toward Pastor Brothers. I think that he's suffering from a problem that's very common in the United States today, and that is that people, they don't follow the spirit of law. They try to take the letter and twist it into, you know, all of these different purposes to serve their own ends.
And sir, that law, the separation of church and state, was intended to protect Americans from individuals like yourself and not books like Harry Potter.
BROTHERS: Well, the problem is -- the problem is, son...
... that I didn't write that law. And the bottom line is we have more kids that know more about Harry Potter now than know about Jesus Christ.
So I didn't write the law and the law was not written for me, or I'd have written it different.
But Bobbie, here -- I want to share something with your audience if I can. We talked a little while ago about the effect of these books and what have you. We have people who call our 1-800-VICTORY number or call our Web site up at FreedomVillageUSA every day, and they're concerned about their kids. They're concerned about things their kids are getting into it.
This is a young man, and his name is Sean Sellers (ph). Now when Sean Sellers was a tenth-grader, his school allowed a practicing witch to come into the classroom and discuss witchcraft. Now, whether there were 30, 40, 50 kids in that class -- I don't know. But one kid, this boy right here, got in over his head. It started by his own testimony. It started the day that she came in and started perking his interest on the issue of witchcraft.
This boy went into many, many other things, eventually full-blown Satanism. He eventually killed his parents, a convenience store clerk, and they just executed him in February.
BATTISTA: Well, witchcraft and Satanism are not at all related.
BROTHERS: They are related.
BATTISTA: They are not one in the same.
BROTHERS: Oh, Bobbie, I need to do your homework.
BATTISTA: I did, pastor.
BROTHERS: You need to do your homework/
BATTISTA: We'll be back in just a second.
BATTISTA: We only have about 30 seconds or so. Let me have Chris, you wanted to jump in here.
FINAN: Thanks. I just wanted to say that we got a little off the track. We've talked a lot about separation of church and state and not much about censorship. What we hope for the Harry Potter controversy is that it's going to re-enforce or create in today's young people a concern for protecting First Amendment rights. And we invite them to join us on our Web site, mugglesforharrypotter.org.
BATTISTA: All right. Chris Finan, thank you for joining us. And Pastor Fletcher Brothers, we appreciate your time as well. Thank you.
And we're out of time, I think. The magic hour has arrived. Enjoy your books, enjoy the weekend, and join us again Monday at 3 for another spellbinding edition of TALKBACK LIVE.
We'll see you then.
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