Today’s Hogwarts moment: Bush officials objected to witchcraft themes in ‘Harry Potter’ series

Sept. 30, 2009 | 4:59 p.m.

Harry Potter and Hermione Granger

Earlier this year, author J.K. Rowling was given one of France’s highest honors when she was inducted into the Legion of Honor by French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee presidential palace. No surprise, I suppose, considering the fact that Rowling’s beloved “Harry Potter” books have sold more than 400 million copies and been translated into 67 languages — not to mention the history-making film adaptations, which collectively have gone north of $5.3 billion in worldwide box office.

Turns out, according to a new book by a speechwriter during the Bush administration, there was talk of honoring the British author with the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom a few years ago but the idea was a non-starter in the White House. The former administration had decision-makers who spoke up to “actually object to giving the author J.K. Rowling a presidential medal because the Harry Potter books encouraged witchcraft,” writes Matthew Latimer, author of “Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor.”

Hmm. They gave the same medal to James Cagney and John Wayne without fear of gunfire in the streets, and Charlton Heston got one despite his mixed messages on creationism vs. evolution (sure, he made great Bible movies, but what about that talking-ape film?). My first thought was that Rowling didn’t merit the award for the simple reason that, well, it was too big of an honor — but, really, is she provably less deserving than previous honorees Julia Child, Rita Moreno or NASCAR driver Richard Petty?

Many supporters celebrate Rowling’s philanthropy and point out that her works have energized young readers in dynamic fashion in an era when parents had given up hope that their youngsters would willingly set aside video games and television remotes so they could plow through a 759-page tome such as “Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows.” Will she still be honored with the Medal of Freedom? The late Ted Kennedy, who was viewed as Voldemort by the GOP, was passed over for the medal during the Bush administration but got it from the next occupant of the White House. Should Rowling be another second-chance candidate?

Take a look at the list of previous Medal of Freedom winners and leave a comment below with your opinion.

— Geoff Boucher


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33 Responses to Today’s Hogwarts moment: Bush officials objected to witchcraft themes in ‘Harry Potter’ series

  1. Dave Brooklyn says:

    Yet more madness that emanated from the Bush White House.
    What is wrong with these people?

  2. NarNar says:

    It's the BUSH ADMINISTRATION… that says enough. Anything the world enjoys the Bush Admin denounces. For Example.
    America likes peace, Bush takes us to war.
    America likes Harry Potter, Bush says don't bother ( "it's the Devil" say it like Moma Boucher from Adam Sandler 'Waterboy' lol)
    America says let rich company pay more in taxes, Bush says, I will give rich company tax credit/shelter.
    America needs regulation, Bush says…"rega..regul".. how do you say that word, what does it mean.

  3. A Mom says:

    I can only imagine that no one in the Bush administration actually read the books…or they would have picked up on the fact that Hogworts closes for CHRISTMAS, and the kids all get CHRISTMAS presents. Yes, CHRISTMAS. A word that in America we're not allowed to say in public anymore because we might offend someone who doesn't celebrate it.

  4. deartoni70 says:

    OMG…Honor the woman for cryin out loud!

  5. Noah says:

    This just goes to show how far to the right of mainstream the Bush administration was in its religious mania. While most Americans ARE religious (including myself), most of us are not the Holloween-hating, evolution-doubting, anti-contraception homophobes that populated Bush's white house.

  6. G.D. says:

    I see nothing wrong with their decision.
    It makes sense that the people making the decisions at that time would feel that way – especially because they were probably Catholic. Remembering back when the Harry Potter series first started coming out there were already people all over the world who didn't want their children to be influenced by the themes followed in the books.
    Also, I don't quite see the comparison between John Wayne/Charles Heston and J.K. Rowling, simply because it is an altogether different category. Who else do you award medals to in the Film category but iconic actors and directors? A fantasy author, however, whose books have been hugely popular in the past 12 years, wouldn't fit in with the authors of great literature whose works span such topics as culture, society, humanity, politics, history, arts and sciences, whose works have impacted America through our decades of wars, peace, new discoveries and staggering historical events.

    • A.Y. says:

      First of all, "Great literature" doesn't automatically exclude the fantasy genre. Secondly, the article didn't compare those who received an award to Rowling, Geoff simply asked if Rowling was less deserving than those people mentioned…i.e. Richard Petty.

  7. dave says:

    Most of the past recipients have a large body of work behind them. It remains to be seen whether she's a one trick pony, or if she can make a lasting impact.

  8. greg says:

    Who cares? If these incredible monuments of literary achievement are so world changing , they will get plenty of honors over time. Oh, I forget it's really a flimsy excuse for more Bush bashing. Carry on.

  9. Geoff B says:

    She should have included pictures… that would spurred much more interest from the White House.
    Gosh, it's not like Ms. Rowling drives a car really fast and can only trun left.

  10. Roger says:

    Geoff, quoting a source named "Latimer"? Isn't that a conflict of interest?

  11. Gurney says:

    dave, it sounds as if you know nothing about writing. It's one whole lotta work to write and then to find a publisher for one book. Extending a solid popular story across so many books is, apparently, much more work than you know.
    It doesn't matter whether you like the books or not, but don't paint Rowling as some kind of slacker. This series was a huge achievement in craft and in commerce.

  12. Wesley Smith says:

    Latimer's comments have gotten a lot of play over the past couple of days, but without greater context, it's hard to judge them. This is one guy's kind of off-handed remark, but do we know how much discussion went into the decision or the pros and cons of Rowling that were brought up?
    I don't know, maybe someone somewhere has posted the larger context of the comment, but I haven't seen it yet.

  13. Tom says:

    I bet they didn't have a problem with the Chronicles of Narnia. Oh sure it has magic, witches, and talking animals too – but does Harry Potter have an allegorical Jesus lion to reel in the zealots? No!

  14. woody says:

    how bout use them powers of witch craft to fight the evil forces of Gog and Magog.

  15. Ed Kim says:

    Apparently those above defending the Bush administration's take on Rowling did not check out the other honorees as Geoff suggested. In light of the fact previous recipients of the Medal include James Michener and Louis L"amour, any argument that Rowling is not "weighty" enough goes out the window.

  16. Anita Bonghit says:

    Who cares? Bush and his people are long gone yet you can't let him go. I really don't want to hear or read about the guy but why is it that some people can't simply move on. If they were afraid of Harry Potter then they were idiots but don't we have more important things to be concerned about now????

  17. Meiako says:

    Please step away from damaging this wonderfully talented woman and her stories.
    You can step into an atmosphere as soon as you open the first page of the first book.
    And another thing, what is better than an imagination?–someone please tell me!
    Please stop damaging this woman’s gift.
    Freedom of speech? Come on; get on with the business of beauty, joy and celebration.
    And another thing, fun is something the American’s used to export.
    Can we have our old American friends back?

  18. Geoff Boucher says:

    A conflict indeed! Yeah I did a double take when I read the name. :-)

  19. sadegh says:

    tnx be khatere filme ziba

  20. Baffled Observer says:

    Witchcraft and magic are common themes in children's stories, from the Grimm Brothers to the Oz books. "The Wind in the Willows" has a chapter that seems to celebrate paganism. I didn't really like the Harry Potter books after the first one, but they certainly don't celebrate or promote evil.
    Why don't these bluenose puritans take at look at their own actions instead of demonizing harmless fantasy? They could start with abandoning the "witchcraft" of taking thousands of lives in the Middle East, go on to the magical way they wrecked the US economy…

  21. Absolutely ridiculous. I am ashamed of the Republican Party these days, and when I read things like this, I just shake my head and walk away. Here you have a woman worth more than the Queen of England by dint of being a creative entrepreneur, and you can't find a way to give her an award? What a disgrace.

  22. Luce says:

    Encouraging witchcraft?!? Well let me just laugh about it.
    Maybe the president is still scared of witches but I assume he didn't get the many good messages the author intended to pass in her books. (Especially in the Stop-the-Racism field)
    I would really give it to her.

  23. Henry says:

    Bush needs to go away…

  24. Henry says:

    What about Sawz 1, 2 and Three and all the other swill being produced? GW ?

  25. Jen says:

    I might be more inclined to believe Mr. Latimer if he said what 'officials' objected to Harry Potter/witchcraft. Laura Bush is on record as being a big fan of the books.

  26. Lisa says:

    I'm just wondering when this rejection took place? The last 4 years of the Bush presidency the democrats were in charge and lets face it they didn't do anything any better. I will bet that not all republicans voted against just like not democrats vote for giving her the award. The books are amazing, the story lines are relevent but its still just someone writing a story for their child that she made money by selling. She has been rewarded by the people and her success.

  27. Gromit says:

    It was silly to believe that any responsible White House would award Rowling the PMF at THIS time. PMF awards to popular entertainers, when given at all, overwhelmingly are given very late in then entertainer's life, as a capstone of sorts. Rowling is hardly an old woman.

  28. Ellen says:

    It's completely ridiculous. :) But certainly not the least bit surprising. Yes, I'm sure they have no qualms about "Narnia". Also… gotta say… she isn't a one trick pony… she'd have to be a seven trick pony… :)

  29. Anon says:

    Hi my name is George!
    I lied and manipulated tragic events for my own goals of starting 2 wars and causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and maiming and suffering of millions more!
    OMG! Is that story about magic using kids fighting bad guys! Ahhh! Thats EVIL!! Ahhh!

  30. D. K. Exeter says:

    Now, mind, I'm not really a huge fan of the books (never been able to bring myself to read them even when all my friends were reading them), but I am a Witch/Wiccan/Pagan and I have seen the films. The Harry Potter films/books diverge from the Craft a fair bit. Wicca is an earth based religion with pantheons of gods ranging from the familiar Greek, Roman, and Egyptian to the more unfamiliar Aztec and Mayan. NO WHERE in the Potter Universe are these religious themes addressed.
    At best Potter combines the magic of imagination with the Christian Religion. I am unaware of any where in the Bible (and I was raised Methodist) that it disallows for the existence of magic. No where in the bloodiest book in human history does it say that magic, magical creature, or the like do not exist. Jesus himself was a great magic used (how else could he create such miracles? Divine Magic.)
    Oh, and for the record, in Wicca the proper term for both male and female practitioners is Witch. There are no Wizards, no Sorcerers, no Mages. There is not Devil in the Craft. The Devil was created around the Third Century A.D. to help convert Pagans to Christianity by demonizing the Horned Gods (typically the consort of the major goddess of a pantheon.)

  31. brettstrodamus says:

    It's really true, anything that Bush Cheney et al support(ed) is (was) genuinely wrong. Outstanding. I wonder how long it will take America and the world to shake off the stank of those clowns…

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