Church Protests Harry Potter Event

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As children walked into the library Wednesday, a group outside shouted through bullhorns, telling the youngsters that they were going to hell.

Protesters from Victory Chapel greeted children outside the Payson Public Library as they entered to attend an event called "Harry Potter, a Kid's Night Out."

"The protesters yelled things like, ‘God would think Harry Potter is an abomination,'" 13-year-old Breanne Standifird said.

Two other children, ages 10 and 12, said the protesters were shouting that Harry Potter is the work of the devil and that the children could be forgiven, if they would repent.

Harry Potter books feature characters like witches and wizards and have drawn criticism from some religious groups.

Library circulation clerk Pat Helmick said she thought the protesters crossed the line by yelling at the children.

"They were screaming, ‘Don't go in there, it's evil. Don't read Harry Potter.' It was amazing and pathetic," Helmick said. "I mean, if you don't want your kids to read a book, then just don't have them read it. It's so simple. A person came in and gave me a copy of the paper they were handing the children. It had scriptures on it talking about abominations and adultery -- stuff that I never got from reading Harry Potter. I mean, my goodness."

Parents were upset about how the protesters approached the children.

"I had a friend drop my daughter off at the library," Breanne's mother, Lori Standifird said. "But when I heard there were protesters yelling at the children I was concerned for my daughter's safety and drove over and saw that there were about seven protesters with signs. They had a megaphone and they were shouting things at the children. My daughter said she never felt threatened. In fact, she thought it was sad that these poor misled people didn't have anything better to do with their time. But I was concerned because you never know what extremists are going to do. I saw the police there talking with some of the protesters."

Police were called to the scene when a man leaving the library had a confrontation with the protesters.

"The officers arrived and separated the parties and took statements," Payson Police Lt. Don Engler said. "It has been forwarded to the town attorney's office for review."

Library director Terry Morris said she respects the group's right to protest, but not the way they frightened the children.

"The way these people were shouting at the children really scared some of them," Morris said. "It also made them feel like they were doing something horrible by going to an event at their public library."

Victory Chapel Pastor Gary Basham said the scare tactic was justified.

"Yes we scared them, but I'd rather scare them to heaven than just let them go to hell -- because hell's kind of scary." Basham said. "What we were trying to do was a peaceable protest against witchcraft and sorcery which Harry Potter is directly involved with. The Bible says to raise your children up in the ways of the Lord, not in sorcery. The Bible speaks out against witchcraft and sorcery throughout the old and new testaments. We believe that this Harry Potter thing is wicked. All we were trying to do is open the people's eyes to reality -- it's not just a little story book."

Basham, who admits he has never read any of the Harry Potter books, believes that the author J.K. Rowling is a witch herself and is trying to promote witchcraft through her books.

"In reality, we really didn't mean to frighten the children," Basham said. "It's the parents we wanted to scare, and now I think we've got their attention. Our message is that the parents should teach their kids what the Bible says about this. Then they would know."

When asked if he believed it was fair to hurt children to send a message to parents, Basham responded, "Is hell going to hurt?"

Children attending the event participated in contests and activities like pumpkin painting and raffles.

Local Forest Service ranger station personnel brought in wildlife displays and taught the children about owls -- birds frequently mentioned in the Harry Potter books. Prizes were given to each of the children and included Harry Potter books, movies, toys and hats.

"We planned this event for a long time and it was great for the children," Morris said. "Next year we're going to do a ‘Lord of the Rings' theme."

"The kids had a good time, despite the protesters," Helmick said. "But we didn't let the kids leave unless they were with a parent in case the Victory Chapel people were out there lurking on a corner."

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