Accuracy in Media

A Catholic pastor in Nashville is under fire from the media because he declared the Harry Potter series of books taught lessons that conflicted with the precepts of faith his parish school was supposed to present and banned them from the school library.

St. Edward Catholic School opened a new library this fall, and in the process of moving, removed some of the books either because of low circulation or because they did not reflect the church’s message. The pastor, who said he consulted exorcists and others for advice, said he removed the books because they posed a threat to the children in the school.

“These books present magic as both good and evil, which is not true, but in fact, a clever deception,” the pastor, Father Dan Reehil, said in an email to parents. “The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.”

Yet, in “A Catholic school removed Harry Potter books from its library, warning that readers ‘risk conjuring evil spirits’ by Antonia Noori Farzan, the Washington Post was quick to point out that “furor over allegations of Satanism and devil worship had died down in recent years, and the choice to remove Harry Potter books from the St. Edward’s library appears to have garnered little support from the school community.”

She does not mention that the controversy has died down in recent years because no Harry Potter novel has been published since 2007 and no Harry Potter movie has been released since 2011. She does mention in passing that this is hardly the first instance of school leaders taking exception to Harry Potter books. The American Library Association found that between 2000 and 2009, these were among the most likely to be challenged by parents objecting to their inclusion in school libraries.

Farzan also does not seem to understand that private schools, unlike public schools, do not need “support from the school community” to enforce religious standards.

She wrote disapprovingly, for instance, of the school’s practice of requiring its students to take what she called “Christian doctrine classes” and to attend Mass twice a week – common requirements for Catholic schools nationwide.

She wrote later that “Parents who aired their concerns Monday in an anonymous letter shared with [a local TV station] suggested that the decision raised larger questions about the priest’s ‘fringe’ views and his ability to ‘critically assess ad discern fact from fiction,’ and complained that the decision had been made unilaterally without input from parents or other school administrators.”

Farzan accepts as truth the characterizations of those who oppose the move, saying it “was widely mocked on social media by fans of the popular series, who pointed out that the collection is a work of fiction and that there is absolutely no evidence backing Reehil’s claim that the spells and curses described are real.” There is evidence, of course. Reehil interviewed experts on exorcism in both the U.S. and Rome.

She goes on to quote from the anonymous letter gain, saying “the pastor has a ‘fanatical obsession with the devil and sin.’”

Farzan then takes up a technique the Post has become all too familiar with – using quotes from Twitter to express dissatisfaction with an idea in a news story. After she wrote that the decision “was widely mocked on social media” she displayed several tweets, all opposing the move.

“If your child attends this school, pull them immediately,” wrote Jason Cross, whose Twitter ID says he works for Macworld. “If the school thinks there are ‘real magic spells’ in *Harry Potter* then it cannot be trusted to teach your child real scholastic skills.”

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