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Ky. prayer group proposes book ban

By AL SWANSON, United Press International

Harry Potter and books on witchcraft, ghosts and social issues are on a list of more than 50 books a teacher's prayer group in Kentucky wants removed from the Russell County High School.

The Russell Springs, Ky., group, which includes both parents and teachers, asked in a letter last month that a special committee review library books that "may need to be removed." The letter said God had revealed the presence of the troubling books.

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"God spoke to my spirit and we must do 'HOUSE CLEANING!'" the letter said. "He cannot come into a place that is corrupted. We must not allow for these books to continue polluting the minds of our teenagers."

Opponents of the review said a high school art teacher wrote the letter.

Other than author J.K. Rowling's four best-selling Harry Potter titles, books challenged by the prayer group include "World's Most Famous Ghosts" by Daniel Cohen, "The Witchcraft of Salem Village" by Shirley Jackson, "Satanism: Rumor, Realty and Controversy" by Allen J. Ottens and Rick Myer, and "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou.

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"Harry Potter by far has been the most challenged book for the past three years," said Beverely Becker, associate director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom in Chicago. "Most of the complaints involve kindergarten through sixth grade elementary schools and school libraries."

Becker said her ALA office tracked more than 6,300 challenges to books in the past decade -- more than 500 last year -- but estimated only 20 percent to 25 percent of such complaints were reported to the library association.

"The biggest complaints have been about sexual content, offensive language, witchcraft, the occult and Satanism," she said.

Mark Twain's American classic, "Huckleberry Finn," "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck, and "Ordinary People" by Judith Guest are among the most challenged books in high schools, the ALA said.

Becker said if requested by community members, the ALA would write letters to local newspapers and groups defending challenged books and suggest a review process that asks people filing a written complaint, "Did you read it?"

Russell County High School has a policy that permits people to request a review of library books but Principal Roger Cook said no one had complained about a book in more than 20 years. He said the high school council had asked the prayer group for more information and told them how to form a fair review committee.

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The Lexington Herald-Leader said the group failed to present a proposal at a council meeting Tuesday night and people opposed to reviewing the list of books defended the school's librarian.

"Personally, I think none of the books should be taken away," businessman Donnie Wilkerson told the Herald-Leader. "Leave that to the parent's to make that decision."

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