Harry Potter and the Cedarville Censors

Inside the Precedent-Setting Defeat of an Arkansas Book Ban


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About the Book

In 2002, the Cedarville School Board in Crawford County, Arkansas, ordered the removal of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books from library shelves, holding that “witchcraft or sorcery [should not] be available for study.”
The Board picked some formidable adversaries. School librarian Estella Roberts, standing on policy, had the books reviewed—and unanimously approved—by a committee of teachers and administrators that included a child and a parent.
Not satisfied with the Board’s half-measure permitting access to the books with parental approval, 4th-grader Dakota Counts and her father Bill Counts sued the school district in Federal court, drawing on the precedent Pico v. Island Trees to reaffirm that Constitutional rights apply to school libraries.
Written by the lawyer who prosecuted the case, this book details the origins of the book ban and the civil procedures and legal arguments that restored the First Amendment in Cedarville.

About the Author(s)

Brian Meadors is a former U.S. Navy nuclear submarine officer. After his naval service, he attended Georgetown University Law Center, graduating cum laude. He practiced in Washington, DC, for a few years before moving to Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he was a trial lawyer for ten years. He is currently in-house counsel for a Fortune 500 corporation and lives Charlotte, North Carolina.

Bibliographic Details

Brian Meadors

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 217
Bibliographic Info: appendix, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2019
pISBN: 978-1-4766-7497-1
eISBN: 978-1-4766-3583-5
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Preface 1
Introduction 3
1. An Inspirational Wednesday 5
2. A Brief History of Harry Potter 13
3. Legal Backstory: Gobitis & Barnette (Students Have
Constitutional Rights) 17
4. Estella Fights Back 21
5. Legal Backstory: Tinker (Students Have a Right to Non-Disruptive Speech) 28
6. School Boards 31
7. Legal Backstory: Pico (Students’ Free Speech Rights
Apply to School Libraries) 40
8. Like Magic, a Client Appears 53
9. Intolerant of Tolerance 61
10. Adversaries and Allies 77
11. Legal Backstory: Sund (Hiding a Library Book Is the Same as Censoring It) 91
12. Building the Case 96
13. “There are schools of magic” 106
14. Dakota Counts 119
15. The Expert 133
16. Legal Backstory: Bystrom (8th Circuit Adopts the Pico Plurality) 145
17. Summary Judgment 158
18. Carrot and Stick 164
19. The Fruit of the Litigation Tree 174
Appendix: Judge Hendren’s Opinion (Counts v. Cedarville School District, 295 F.Supp.2d 996 [2003]) 183
Chapter Notes 195
Bibliography 199
Index 205

Book Reviews & Awards

• “An engaging read that documents the twists and turns of an ultimately unsuccessful book challenge to the first two Harry Potter books…. Meadors does a satisfying job of setting the scene… [He] provides surprisingly sympathetic portrayals of the primary players… He’s particularly effective at explaining court procedures, taking the time to ensure that readers can fully enjoy the happy, precedent-setting ending. The title will draw in book lovers, and the narrative will keep them reading through to the gratifying conclusion.”—Booklist

• “Recommended… The memoir provides detailed insights into one of the many First Amendment battles Rowling’s series has faced in the two decades since its initial publication.”—Children’s Literature Association

Author Interview

Review Fix chats with Harry Potter and the Cedarville Censors author Brian Meadors, who discusses the infamous case and how he turned the experience into a piece of non-fiction that everyone and not just fans of the work of J.K. Rowling will enjoy.

Review Fix: What inspired the creation of this book?

Brian Meadors: A number of lawyers are either frustrated writers, frustrated comics, or both.  I was in the frustrated writer camp when I had the opportunity to take the Harry Potter case.  The Harry Potter case was so unusual, Harry Potter books so popular, and the Defendants so outrageous, that after the case I realized it would make for a great book.

Review Fix: What makes Harry Potter worthy of a book like this in your opinion?

Meadors: A better question would be how is my book worthy of Harry Potter….   But seriously, the book isn’t really about Harry Potter.  It involves Harry, yes, but the book is really about censorship, evangelicals, how the law works and evolves, and the nuts and bolts of a civil lawsuit.  The book shows this in a very accessible, non-legalistic way.  The book is written for non-lawyers and could be easily understood by both adults and young adults.

Review Fix: What was the writing process like?

Meadors: Oh.  Hard.  Long.  About two thirds was written in a two month period. Every day for two months, with a religious-like fervor, I wrote at least five hundred words.  I often wrote more, but I had a self-imposed bare minimum of five hundred.   Then, over the next two years, I wrote the remaining third of the book.  Then came the harder part — selling the manuscript.  I went through the query process with all its rejections and lack of responses.  Ultimately, I got a great and very reputable agent named Bob Lescher.  Unfortunately, Bob was unable to place the book with a publisher, and a year later he slowed down his practice and then passed away.  I was sad, and I put the book on the shelf for many, many years.  I dusted the manuscript off again and, at a Gen Con gaming convention, made a pitch to McFarland Publishing, who liked the manuscript.  McFarland had me add about 20,000 words and make the book more scholarly, which I did.

Review Fix: What did you learn through the writing process that you weren’t expecting?

Meadors: I learned the power of incremental change, applied consistently and over time.  As I get older, I become more and more convinced that anything worthwhile requires time and incremental change.

Review Fix: What are your goals for the book?

Meadors: For the longest time, my goal was simply to be published.  That has happened now, so I’m having to shift goals.  I want this to be a fun book that is used and loved by librarians, law school professors, Harry Potter fans, and those opposing censorships.

Review Fix: How would you like it to be remembered?

Meadors: In an upbeat, positive manner.  This book chronicles a win for civil rights in a school setting—and those aren’t common.  I’d also like to be remembered as a story of courage.  The stars of the book—the fourth grade girl and the librarian—showed real-life courage, and I admire them for that.  Finally, I’d like it to be recognized as a really good and accessible introduction into the machinations of how litigation actually works.

Review Fix: What’s next?

Meadors: My current project is a novel tentatively called Youngstown.  It’s a coming-of-age story of a young nuclear submarine officer — imagine Scott Turow’s 1L set on a submarine.  It’ll be like that.  I used to be an officer on nuclear submarines, and so I feel I can credibly show my protagonist’s story and describe his world.

Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?

Meadors: To all those struggling writers out there, keep at it.  I took the Harry Potter case in 2003.  It is now 16 years later, and I have the book.  Be persistent in your dreams.