In her new appeal to the local board, Mallory expanded her initial request—she now asked that all six Harry Potter books (at this point in time the final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, had not yet been published) be removed from all 143 Gwinnett County Public Schools. The local board assigned a hearing officer, who conducted a public hearing on April 20, 2006 (State BOE). Both Mallory and representatives of the county were given the opportunity to speak.
While the county did defend their decision at the school and system level, due to the fact that Mallory raised the initial complaint it was up to her to prove that the books were unsuitable reading material to keep in public school media centers. She was given fifteen minutes to make her argument for the books’ removal, during which she made two primary points:
“First, she argued that the Harry Potter books contained descriptions of murders, witchcraft, disrespect for authority, lying, and intolerance, in a favorable light when such actions do not reflect socially acceptable values and are too easily influencing on small children. Appellant’s second argument was that the Harry Potter books promote the Wicca religion to the students contrary to the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States” (State BOE).
She supported these claims with internet articles she had pulled, along with the testimony of a couple witnesses. Her first witness stated that “as a teenager she became involved in witchcraft after she read the Harry Potter books,” while her second witness, a marriage and family therapist, stated that “witchcraft and paganism, which she claimed the Harry Potter books promote, instilled a fear response in children” (State BOE). These arguments fall in line with the work of documentarian Caryl Matrisciana, whose film Harry Potter: Witchcraft Repackaged: Making Evil Look Innocent was featured on Mallory’s personal blog at the time of the case. Matrisciana’s claims about Harry Potter likely played an influential role in Mallory’s decision to launch and continuously pursue the request to have the books removed.
Gwinnett County’s Argument
On the opposite side of Mallory, Gwinnett County brought several witnesses to speak in defense of their original decision to keep the books in school media centers. The primary representative as listed in the Georgia State Board of Education’s case summary, “argued that the Harry Potter books contained positive themes regarding ‘good versus evil, overcoming adversity, loyalty, friendship, and courage . . .’ and caused an increased interest for reading among children” and testified that “the Harry Potter books had circulated 39,575 times during the preceding two years.” An additional witness for Gwinnett County, a parent, is reported to have said “These are the kinds of books that make children love to read . They have adventure, excitement, emotion, imagination, and they keep you reading day and night until you finish” (State BOE). In our interview with Dr. Lisa Eickholdt, a literacy specialist and county representative at the hearing, this same idea came up. Dr. Eickholdt argued that the book series made a big difference for young readers, especially the striving readers she worked closely with as a literacy specialist:
“Again I had kids who were reading at a second grade level, and these were kids who wanted to stay in from recess to listen to the book and work on it more. So when you have kids begging you to stay in from recess to read, you’re doing the right thing. Right? And so I know it turned many kids into readers, and it was mainly because the amount of scaffolding and the work we could do that helped them become stronger readers.”
According to the State Board of Education, neither party introduced conversation regarding Wicca into the debate. After hearing arguments both against and for the books, the hearing officer chose to uphold the original decision to keep the Harry Potter books in Gwinnett County Public Schools.
Laura Mallory vs. Gwinnett County Board of Education, 2006-84, (GA State BOE. 2006).