NEWS
Banned Books Week: Book burner to stand trial in Iowa
22 Jul 2019
BY SOPHIA PALEY
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan was among the burned titles.
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan was among the burned titles.

On 19 October 2018, the city of Orange City, Iowa, held a LGBT+ pride parade downtown, and a drag queen story hour in the public library. One man, however, had already checked out of the festivities–and he had taken several library books with him.

Paul Dorr, a resident of nearby Ocheyedan and the director of the Christian organisation Rescue the Perishing,  posted a live video to Facebook about an hour before the parade was scheduled to start. During the video‘s 29 minutes, Dorr recited a Rescue the Perishing blog post entitled “May God And The Homosexuals of OC Pride Please Forgive Us!” and threw four books he claimed were from the library into a flaming trash can. Dorr explained that he was protesting drag queen story hour, and told viewers that his actions were inspired by the burning by Nazi youth of the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, a private sexology research institute, in 1933.

The books Dorr burned in were all LBGT-themed children’s books: Two Boys Kissing, by David Leviathan, is a tween romance; Christine Baldacchino’s  Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress is about a young boy who enjoys wearing a dress; This Day in June, by Gayle E. Pitman, is a picture book about pride; and  Suzanne and Max Lang’s Families, Families, Families! is a children’s book about nontraditional families.

This is not the first time the Orange City Library has seen controversy over LBGT books. Earlier in 2018, 340 people petitioned the library to label LGBT books and separate them from the rest. The library did subsequently reorganise its books into sections based on subject matter, though whether this was done in response to the petition is unclear.

After the due date for the books he had checked out passed without their return, the Orange City Attorney’s Office arrested Dorr and charged him with fifth-degree criminal mischief. The charge is a misdemeanor, and if found guilty Dorr would face a maximum sentence of 30 days in prison and a $625 (£500) fine. After the book burning, Rescue the Perishing also began to receive LGBT books in the mail, which the organisation’s Facebook page promises “will only end up being consumed by flames and never opened”.

On 6 June, 2019, Dorr, who represented himself in court, filed a motion asking magistrate Lisa Mazurek, the judge in his case, to dismiss the charge against him on the grounds that the library had infringed upon his First Amendment right to speak by treating him differently than other patrons who did not return their books. He has elsewhere insisted that the library has no grievance against him because he sent in money to cover the replacement costs. On 12 July 2019, Mazurek refused to dismiss the charges, saying that she believes Dorr was not punished for his views but for destroying public property. Unless the parties settle, Dorr will stand trial 6 August, 2019.

Banned Books Week / 22-28 Sept 2019

Celebrating our right to read. Banned Books Week UK

Banned Books Week UK is a nationwide campaign for radical readers and rebellious readers of all ages celebrate the freedom to read. Between 22 – 28 September 2019, bookshops, libraries, schools, literary festivals and publishers will be hosting events and making noise about some of the most sordid, subversive, sensational and taboo-busting books around.

Sophia Paley

Sophia Paley is a political science student at Wellesley College in Massachusetts and a former Adam Smith Fellow with the Wellesley College Freedom Project. Her academic interests include Chinese and American politics, focusing particularly in the latter on American law and religious speech.

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