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A religious activist accused of burning four LGBTQ children’s books that he checked out of a public library has been convicted of criminal mischief and fined.
Paul Robert Dorr, 63, of Ocheyedan, Iowa, was this week found guilty of one count of fifth-degree criminal mischief, a misdemeanor.
Dorr, who had previously waived his right to a jury trial, was accused of checking four LGBTQ-themed children’s books out of the Orange City Library in October 2018, and, in a video posted to Facebook, burning them while criticizing the library for having such books in the first place.
Typically, in Iowa, fifth-degree criminal mischief is punishable by a fine of at least $65 and up to $625. A 30-day jail sentence may also be ordered in lieu of, or in addition to, a fine.
Dorr was ordered to pay a $65 fine, a 35 percent surcharge of $22.75, and $60 in court costs, reports NorthwestIowa.com.
Sioux County Attorney Tom Kunstle, who prosecuted the case, had previously asked the magistrate to order Dorr to pay the maximum fine of $625, as well as a 35 percent surcharge of $218.75 and $60 in court costs.
While Kunstle did not ask for jail time, he argued that Dorr needed to pay the maximum fine to send a message that Dorr did not have a right to “intentionally destroy somebody else’s property.”
But Magistrate Lisa Mazurek said that, because Dorr does not have much of a criminal record other than some speeding tickets, and because this was his first offense, she would not impose the maximum fine.
Dorr, who represented himself, previously filed several motions, all of which were rejected by the court.
One of those motions accused the county of “selective prosecution,” claiming that the county was singling him out because of his religious beliefs opposing homosexuality and his work as head of the Rescuing the Perishing religious group.
Another motion was a notice of “defense of necessity,” claiming that his actions were essential to preventing a greater harm from being done — in this case, preventing children from being exposed to books promoting homosexuality.
Others included a motion to suppress evidence, two motions to dismiss, a motion for a change of venue, and two motions to have Mazurek recuse herself.
At the conclusion of the trial, Dorr handed out a written statement to members of the media, in which he accused Mazurek of being biased against him and hampering his defense in court.
“Over the past several weeks, I’ve been limited by honorable Magistrate Lisa Mazurek of Cherokee, Iowa, in what I can offer to a jury in defense of my actions last October,” he said in the statement. “This was one of the reasons I requested she recuse herself and for a change of venue. She denied both. This is also why I asked her to waive my right of a jury trial and face a bench trial. With her limitations on my defense, I knew that the outcome was a foregone conclusion, so I chose to remain silent.
“My intent was never criminal,” Dorr continued. “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. I did it in such a way so as to exercise my freedom of speech and the freedom of my biblical faith.”
But Rita Bettis Austen, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, rejects Dorr’s justification for his actions, releasing a statement in response to the verdict.
“Mr. Dorr has a right to his beliefs, and the First Amendment protects his right to express those beliefs. But the issue here is not this man’s beliefs, nor his speech — it is the destruction of library property.
“Burning public library books is the destruction of ideas, and that’s reprehensible. 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.
“Further, we stand by the LGBTQ community in Orange City and the public library that serves them,” Austen concluded. “We all have the right to be free from discrimination and bias on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity at the library. The library was right to stock these important books, which reflect the LGBTQ population in Orange City.”
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