It was the kind of proclamation that mayors sign all of the time - with a twist.
"WHEREAS, Earth Religions are among the oldest spiritual systems on the planet; and WHEREAS, Followers of many earth-centered religions live and worship in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina."
Thus, Asheville Mayor Leni Sitnick declared the last week of October "Earth Religions Awareness Week," in a rite attended by local witches and scores of singing children, led by a priestess in a long, black robe. A few days later, a witch read one of her favorite books to elementary schoolchildren.
No, it wasn't a Harry Potter book, one of those supernaturally popular novels about a youngster at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But a lot of people are having troubled welcoming witches into the public square - period.
"This is precisely the kind of thing that keeps happening these days and more people are getting concerned," said Joel Belz, publisher of World, a national evangelical newsmagazine based in Asheville.
After all, Harry Potter-mania is everywhere. The books recently held the top three slots on the U.S. hardback fiction bestseller lists and the top two slots on the paperback lists. British author Joanne Kathleen Rowling's books have been translated into 28 languages and she has promised four more books in the series. Hollywood is gearing up, too.
What's a parent or pastor to do?
"We know that what's in the Harry Potter books is not all bad and that lots of Christian families will read them and enjoy them," said Belz. "No one wants to be reactionary. But we have to take issues of good and evil seriously and we just can't endorse the kind of moral ambiguity that we see in these books."
Thus, the book division of God's World Publishing has stopped selling "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," "Harry Potter and the Secret Chamber" and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." Customers made their concerns very clear, said Belz. Also, the editors at World magazine had decided to reverse course.
A May review focusing on the first Harry Potter novel said: "Magic and wizardry are problematic for Christian readers. Mrs. Rowling, though, keeps it safe, inoffensive and non-occult. This is the realm of Gandalf and the Wizard of Id, on witchcraft. There is a fairy-tale order to it all in which, as (G.K.) Chesterton and (J.R.R.) Tolkien pointed out, magic must have rules, and good does not - cannot - mix with bad."
But a new cover story argues that Rowling's work has evolved and now resembles the "tangled terrain and psychology of Batman." While the Harry Potter books may seem innocent, this "safety, this apparent harmlessness, may create a problem by putting a smiling mask on evil. A reader drawn in would find that the real world of witchcraft is not Harry's world."
Others are just as worried about the violence in the books. Earlier this month, the South Carolina Board of Education agreed to review the status of the Harry Potter books. In a quotation featured in news reports from coast to coast, Elizabeth Mounce of Columbia told the board: "The books have a serious tone of death, hate, lack of respect and sheer evil." These debates are not merely a Bible Belt phenomenon. Critics are speaking up in states such as Michigan, Minnesota and New York.
Meanwhile, Rowling has been touring the United States and offering this blunt advice: Anyone who is worried about the content of her books shouldn't read them. But she also has repeatedly warned her readers that the tone of the Harry Potter books will become increasingly dark and potentially disturbing. She is committed to portraying evil in a serious way, with characters that are more complex than cardboard cutouts.
"If you ban all the books with witchcraft and the supernatural, you'll ban three-quarters of children's literature," she told the Washington Post. "I positively think they are moral books. I've met thousands of children, but I've never met a single child who has asked me about the occult."