Religious activist convicted for burning LGBTQ library books

“Burning public library books is the destruction of ideas, and that’s reprehensible," the legal director of the ACLU of Iowa, Rita Bettis Austen, said.
By Gwen Aviles

A religious activist who burned four LGBTQ children’s books that he borrowed from an Iowa library has been convicted of criminal mischief.

Sioux County Attorney Thomas Kunstle told NBC News that Paul Robert Dorr, 63, was found guilty of the misdemeanor Tuesday and ordered to pay approximately $147 in fines and court costs.

Kunstle said that Dorr filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the state had “selectively” prosecuted him, as many people are guilty of not returning their library books on time, but the court denied his request.

Dorr, the director of Rescue The Perishing, a religious group and website he calls a "crisis center and pro-life, pro-family movement,” posted a video of himself burning the books from Orange City Public Library on Facebook in October 2018 to protest the town’s second annual Pride celebration. He threw the books one by one into a flaming pot.

“Orange City Library, you won’t be peddling this one anymore,” Dorr said in the video as he threw one of the books into the flames. “You should all be ashamed of yourselves and repent.”

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The burned books included "Two Boys Kissing," a young adult romance by David Levithan; "Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress," a children’s book about a boy who likes to wear a tangerine dress, by Christine Baldacchino; "This Day In June," a picture book about a pride parade, by Gayle E. Pitman, and "Families, Families, Families!", by Suzanne and Max Lang, a book featuring animated animals that demonstrate nontraditional families.

“My motive was to honor the Triune God in whom my faith resides and to protect the children of Orange City from being seduced into a life of sin and misery,” Dorr wrote in a statement provided to NBC News. “I did it in such a way so as to exercise my freedom of speech and the freedom of my Biblical faith.”

Critics of Dorr’s behavior, however, state that while he is entitled to express his beliefs under the First Amendment, he was wrong to destroy library property in the process.

“The issue here is not this man's beliefs, nor his speech — it is the destruction of library property,” the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, Rita Bettis Austen, wrote in a statement. “Burning public library books is the destruction of ideas, and that’s reprehensible.”

She added that the ACLU of Iowa stands by Orange City’s LGBTQ community.

“We all have the right to be free from discrimination and bias on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity at the library,” Austen wrote. “The library was right to stock these important books.”

More than half of the top 11 most frequently challenged and banned books of 2018 include LGBTQ content, according to a report by the American Library Association.

The ALA noted in its report that the book burning is part of a “worrisome trend” of employing “extreme tactics” in an attempt to censor information and ideas, citing Dorr as an example.

“These tactics range from an actual book burning in Iowa that targeted LGBTQIA+ books to lawsuits filed to halt libraries’ drag queen story hours and to end community access to curated and authoritative research databases,” the ALA wrote.

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