My partner Olivia and I have made considerable progress on our project over the past week, having settled on a 2007 case involving a challenge to author J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series in Georgia’s Gwinnett County school system. We have ultimately decided to pursue this case, rather than committing to a more general study of the mid 20th-century Georgia Literature Commission, because we expect that a narrow focus will allow for greater specificity, and that a more recent case will better complement this course’s thematic and pedagogical approach. Additionally, Olivia has connections in the Gwinnett County school system who may potentially provide interviews, or help expedite the process of obtaining sources from local administrators.
A cursory investigation into publicly available sources reveals that the appellant in this case, Laura Mallory, a concerned parent affiliated with the Gwinnett County school system, alleged that the inclusion of Rowling’s books in the Magill Elementary School media center constituted state-sponsored promotion of Wicca, a modern religion which seeks to recontextualize pagan folk traditions. Mallory proposed that by providing access to Harry Potter, Gwinnett County had thus effectively violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Her case reached a state appellate court after being initially rejected by the Gwinnett County school board, but was again rejected according to a case summary made available by the Georgia Department of Education, on the grounds that she failed to present evidence satisfying the “especially high” burden of proof required to demonstrate “gross abuse of discretion” on the part of the local board. Wording in later accounts suggests that the case may have reached an additional court soon after the appellate case, but further research is required to distinguish between individual rulings with certainty.
Additional regional and religious context associated with the Mallory case, derived in part from relevant secondary sources, may allow for more meaningful research. To that end, I have personally contacted Dr. James Welborn III, a southern historian at Georgia College & State University, to inquire about additional books and articles involving southern progressivism and power dynamics in contemporary southern communities. Moving forward, I may also seek to contact members of the Georgia College sociology department to discuss the politics of victimization, particularly majority victimization and the appropriation of victimhood. Notable questions informing proper contextualization include Mallory’s background and denomination, her intent in structuring the case around the inherently secular Establishment Clause, and the extent of her stake in school literature over the course of these cases, namely the ages and enrollment statuses of her three children. While this case appears relatively short-lived and decisive, I predict that the bulk of our analysis will come from asking questions about the implicit meaning expressed in Mallory’s challenge rather than examining the explicit challenge itself; what can we conclude about her worldview and intent, based on her diction and conduct? Ideally, Mallory will concede to an interview, provided we are able to contact her at some point, as an interview would likely prove enlightening even if it were moderated by her own terms and sense of comfort with the topic.
Moving forward, our most immediate priority will be to obtain more holistic records of cases involving Mallory. It is also imperative that we identify other notable figures involved with these trials, and seek out any relevant information associated with them.