A northwest Iowa man who burned four LGBTQ-themed children’s library books last year was found guilty of 5th degree criminal mischief Tuesday in Sioux County District Court.
Paul Dorr, 63, of Ocheyedan, who runs the Christian group “Rescue The Perishing," was fined $65 plus a 35 percent criminal penalty surcharge and court costs during his sentencing. The $65 fine is the minimum for his charge, a simple misdemeanor. Sioux County Attorney Thomas Kunstle, who represented the state of Iowa, requested Dorr be fined the maximum penalty of $625, a 35 percent surcharge and court costs for destroying the library's property.
In October 2018, Dorr recorded himself on a video posted to social media publicly burning four children’s library books that have lesbian, gay and bisexual themes, mostly in protest to a pride festival happening in Orange City.
According to the criminal complaint filed by Duane Hulstein, an investigator from the Orange City Police Department, Dorr checked out four LGBTQ-themed children’s books from the Orange City Public Library on Oct. 6. He then burned these books, “damaging them beyond use,” on Oct. 19.
Dorr on Tuesday defended himself in court and chose not to testify during his non-jury trial. Before he was sentenced, Dorr recited the last two stanzas of the Netherlands national anthem in English, the alma mater of Orange City’s Northwestern College.
Dorr declined to comment to media immediately after the trial. In a written statement, he said he burned the books to exercise his freedom of speech and faith.
“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 said in his statement.
Statewide LGBTQ organization One Iowa’s Interim Executive Director Courtney Reyes condemned Dorr’s actions in a statement.
“Libraries are safe havens where every person has free access to all ideas and expressions without restriction,” Reyes said. “Dorr intended to deprive the children of Orange City that access, to isolate LGBTQ youth from reflections of themselves in stories, to take from all youth the opportunity to empathize with people different than themselves. Such an act is terrible, and we are glad justice was served today."
The ACLU of Iowa, which advocates to protect free speech, in October called Dorr’s actions “disturbing," saying burning books from a public library “is an attempt to shut down the open sharing of discussion and ideas.”
In a statement after Dorr’s trial, Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen said Dorr has a right to express his beliefs, protected by the First Amendment, but the issue at the center of things, she said, is the destruction of library property.
“Burning public library books is the destruction of ideas, and that’s reprehensible,” Bettis Austen said. “The destruction of books from a public library is a clear attempt to shut down the open sharing and discussion of ideas. No one person or even group should decide that they are the gatekeepers of ideas for the rest of the public.”
The trial, presided over by Magistrate Lisa Mazurek, included two witnesses: Duane Hulstein, the Orange City investigator who filed the criminal complaint, and Cheryl Kugler, an Orange City Public Library employee.
Kugler testified that Dorr came into the library and applied for a library card in October. Dorr told her he wanted a library card because his mother-in-law would be entering a care facility in the area and “he wanted to become more familiar with her library” since he would be there more often. Kugler said she informed him of the library’s check-out policies before giving him a library card.
In the weeks after Dorr’s video went viral, the library received an outpouring of support in the form of donated books and money. Kugler said the library received between 800 to 1,000 book donations and over $3,700. The loads of books included copies of the four books Dorr burned, and other titles.
The library entered fewer than 50 into its collection, Kugler testified. The rest were sent to be resold or returned to vendors.