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Potter books cause stir in Pennsylvania town

By The Associated Press

01.24.02

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PENRYN, Pa. — A volunteer group that directs traffic at fire scenes is refusing to work at a YMCA triathlon because it says the club promotes witchcraft by reading Harry Potter books to children.

Penryn Fire Police Capt. Robert Fichthorn said the eight-member group voted unanimously to boycott the 20th running of the triathlon, scheduled for Sept. 7.

"I don't feel right taking our children's minds and teaching them (witchcraft)," Fichthorn said. "As long as we don't stand up, it won't stop. It's unfortunate that this is the way it has to be."

The Lancaster Family YMCA began reading chapters of the Harry Potter books to children enrolled in an after-school program in November.

In a letter to the township and the YMCA, Fichthorn challenged the religious integrity of the YMCA and questioned whether it was "serving the will of God" in using the books.

"When public officials decide not to provide services to private citizens or organizations based on their religious beliefs, then significant First Amendment concerns are raised," said Paul McMasters, First Amendment Ombudsman at the Freedom Forum.

The wildly popular children's books by J.K. Rowling chronicle the fictional adventures of the young Harry Potter as he attends a boarding school for wizards and battles his nemesis, the evil sorcerer Voldemort.

The YMCA's executive director, Michael Carr, said he was disappointed by the department's decision, but doesn't expect it to stop about 600 triathletes from participating in the race.

Township Supervisor Ronald Krause said the YMCA may have to hire police from another community to direct traffic for the race.

The course includes a one-mile swim, a 25-mile bicycle route and a 6.2-mile run. About 200 volunteers are needed to run the event, which passes through Penryn, a small community about 66 miles west of Philadelphia.

Related

Defusing the debate over 'Harry Potter'
By Charles Haynes Unless you live on a remote desert island, by now you know that Harry Potter has worked his magic on millions of children and on a surprising number of adults as well.  08.06.00

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