Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

Justin Scott: Book burning ‘backfires’ for religious group

Vol. 36 No. 01 Jan/Feb 2019
In this screenshot from Facebook Live, Christian activist Paul Dorr throws LGBTQ-themed library books into a burning trash can.                                                                                     

By Justin Scott

The small northwest Iowa community of Orange City made some pretty big headlines in 2018, and for all the wrong reasons. 

In March 2018, the city’s library decided to “experiment” with how it groups books. It shifted from organizing them in alphabetical order by author’s name to grouping them by subject and subcategory, after being pressured by Christian conservatives and anti-LGBTQ activists in the city. According to a story featured in the Feb. 21, 2018, issue of the Des Moines Register, “More than 300 people have signed a petition to either ban or label and group materials related to homosexual and transgender content in the Orange City Public Library.”

Things then seemed to calm down until Paul Dorr got involved. Dorr is a Christian activist and director of a group called Rescue the Perishing, a religious group and website he calls a “crisis center and pro-life, pro-family movement.” Despite living nearly an hour north of Orange City, Dorr not only checked out a handful of LGBTQ-themed books, but he tossed them into a burning trash can. His destruction of property was captured during a Facebook Live session, where he read a blog post from a website called “May God and the Homosexuals of OC Pride Please Forgive Us!” 

When I first heard about it, I was disgusted. As an atheist, I find many religious texts to be worth pitching, but I’ve never actually considered tossing them into the garbage, let alone going to a library to check them out and then toss them into a burning garbage can. 

So, I created a Facebook fundraiser. Initially I just wanted to raise enough to replace the burned books, but the librarian in Orange City told me that it had already received replacements for the books and it didn’t have plans to fill the library with an overwhelming amount of new LGBTQ-themed books. So, my fundraising goals evolved.

My primary objectives were to:

1) Help spread the word about what had happened.

2) Let people know that there was a way they could get involved.

3) Get money and resources into the hands of folks in the Orange City and northwest Iowa area that could respond in a positive way to this. 

Well, the fundraiser took off! I can’t say “thank you” enough to all of the caring individuals around the globe that helped this become such an awesome success. 

The initial goal was $750 and we ended up with more than $2,000! In addition, it was great to see the fundraiser generate headlines in World Religion News, the Friendly Atheist, The Freethinker (Patheos), Gay Star News, Pink News (UK) and KWWL, here in Iowa.

The fundraiser concluded at the end of November and I was able to split up the funds and donate them to a variety of different LGBTQ efforts in that area. 

A portion went directly to the Orange City Library. Another portion was sent to a pro-LGBTQ high school advocacy group in the Orange City area, with the hopes that it can use the funds to make a positive impact in the school and possibly the school library. 

The last portion of the funds raised went to OC Pride, an LGBTQ advocacy group in Orange City that assisted me throughout much of the fundraiser. (Special thanks to Mike Goll for all of his help!) The hope here is that they’ll be able to use the funds to focus on a family safe space during its event that will feature LGBTQ books and materials. 

To me, the success of this fundraiser speaks to the amount of love there is for the LGBTQ community around the world, but especially in Orange City, Iowa. As one headline put it: “Iowa Christian’s book burning stunt spectacularly backfires.” 

I couldn’t agree more. 

FFRF Member Justin Scott is founder of the Eastern Iowa Atheists.