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Burning of 'Ungodly' Books, CDs Puts Church in Spotlight

March 28, 2001|From Reuters

PITTSBURGH — The Rev. George Bender said Tuesday that he never thought a little book burning would get so much publicity.

But reporters have not stopped calling his tiny Harvest Assembly of God Church in rural western Pennsylvania since word got out that church members held a ceremonial burning of "ungodly" videotapes, music CDs and books, including some of the Harry Potter fantasy tales.

"We got a lot more attention than we were planning on. I've been getting calls all morning from all around the country," Bender said. "We were only out to make a little noise in the local community."

The Pentecostal church, which is about 40 miles north of Pittsburgh, sponsored a book burning Sunday evening at the edge of its gravel parking lot. Among the 30 church members and guests in attendance were teenagers who led hymns including "Amazing Grace" and "Father of Creation."

Into the fire went 1970s albums by Joe Walsh and the rock group Foreigner; CDs by Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam and AC/DC; and Walt Disney Co. videos of "Pinocchio" and "Hercules."

Titles by actress Shirley MacLaine and psychic Edgar Cayce, whose work touched on supernatural or paranormal themes, also went up in smoke.

The American Library Assn., which tracks challenges to controversial books in the United States, said book burnings are relatively rare.

"We haven't had any burnings that I'm aware of since . . . I believe it was back in the '80s," said Judith Krug, director of the association's Office for Intellectual Freedom. She also noted that the wildly popular Harry Potter series has attracted more formal challenges in public school libraries than any other book or book collection for two straight years.

"The prevalent reason for challenges is the notion that if children read these materials, they will become believers in [witchcraft], and that evil pervades the material," Krug said.

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