PHILADELPHIA - They're trying to muzzle the Muggles.
Throughout the country, parents, school districts, religious groups and others are trying to censor the best-selling Harry Potter series of children's books by J.K. Rowling because of the books' alleged occult/Satanic theme, witchcraft, wizardry, encouragement of dishonesty, religious viewpoint, anti-family approach and violence.
According to the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, the books in the Harry Potter series have topped the list of books most challenged for two consecutive years. There now are four books in the series.
Books must be viewed in their entirety. The Potter books do focus on magic and the occult - there are spells, potions, magic wands, painful curses, wizards playing a game of team handball on broomsticks (the World Quidditch Cup), and dark, vivid descriptions of blood and death. But there are overriding themes of morality, friendship, love, bravery, loyalty and good defeating evil.
Harry, who suffered tragedy and loneliness growing up without his parents - they were killed by sorcerer Lord Voldemort - goes to Hogwarts, a boarding school devoted to magic, and lives many adventures with his loyal friends.
Harry displays courage by risking his life to duel with Lord Voldemort and escapes to return the body of a deceased friend, Cedric, to Hogwarts. Kids across the world have identified and related to Harry as he goes through his struggles. Harry's even made it cool to read books and wear glasses.
The Potter books received 52 challenges last year, which constitute a formal, written complaint filed with a library or school about a book's content or appropriateness. Several elementary schools have banned the books. There are efforts to ban them from public school classrooms in 26 states.
A religious group near Pittsburgh staged a book and record burning that included the Potter series because of its references to sorcery.
In 1999, a school superintendent in Zeeland, Mich., banned classroom readings of Harry Potter, required parental permission for older students to check out the books from school libraries and forbade librarians from ordering future books in the series.
Despite complaints about the ban, the school board supported the superintendent's decision.
In March 2000, a teacher and a reading tutor organized students, parents, teachers and other community residents who opposed the ban to form "Muggles for Harry Potter." (In the Potter series, muggles are people without magical powers).
Within nine months, 18,000 people nationwide joined the campaign. Through the efforts of the protesters, the Michigan school district lifted all restrictions on the books, except for classroom readings for kindergarten through fifth-graders.
In being challenged so frequently, the Potter series joins a long list of challenged books such as Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.
Many great books have flaws and could be objected to on many counts, such as violence (Oedipus Rex gouging out his eyes; Piggy being stoned to death in Lord of the Flies) and racist and ethnic slurs (the use of racial epithets in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or the anti-Semitism involved with Shylock in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice).
But how should it go?
Should kids be prevented from reading the Bible because it contains many disturbing stories? Might a pre-teen boy suffer nightmares after reading about Abraham's binding of Issac and preparing him as a sacrifice? Should children be deprived of reading The Diary of Anne Frank because the Holocaust is a disturbing subject?
With all the evil and violence in society, it's natural for parents to want to protect their young children from bad influences - the books they read, the movies and television shows they watch, the music they listen to and the video games they play.
But the best magic of the Potter series doesn't occur at the Hogwarts School or at the World Quidditch Cup. It occurs when millions of kids around the world put down a video game or Pokemon card and pick up a 734-page book.
Larry Atkins is a lawyer and writer who lives in Philadelphia.