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Educational Censorship

The Issue

PEN America is a national leader in fighting educational censorship in both higher ed and K-12. Our signature campaign against educational gag orders — legislative restrictions on the freedom to learn and teach that have swept the country since January 2021 — has generated media coverage in over a hundred publications. We will continue to expand our work to defend students and teachers against legislative infringements on free expression in the classroom.

Index of Educational Gag Orders

PEN America tracks these bills in our Index of Educational Gag Orders, updated weekly.

193: number of educational gag order bills introduced in state legislatures since January 2021

41: number of states where an educational gag order bill has been introduced

19: number of educational gag orders that have become law

15: number of states with an educational gag order law

7: number of states with higher ed gag orders in force

19: total number of states with an educational gag order in force via law, policy, or executive order

122 million: number of people living in states with educational gag orders in force



America's Censored Classrooms

America's Censored Classrooms

This year, proposed educational gag orders have increased 250 percent compared to 2021. Thirty-six different states have introduced 137 gag order bills in 2022, compared to 22 states introducing 54 bills in 2021. While there has been a decline in new gag order laws passed from 12 last year to 7 this year, overall, legislative attacks on education in America have been escalating—fast.
Read the report
Educational Gag Orders

Educational Gag Orders

Between January and September 2021, 24 legislatures across the United States introduced 54 separate bills intended to restrict teaching and training in K-12 schools, higher education, and state agencies and institutions. The majority of these bills target discussions of race, racism, gender, and American history.
Read the Report


University of Idaho Guidance on Near-Total Abortion Ban is a Chilling Example of Linked Threats to Free Expression

September 28, 2022
“The University of Idaho’s guidance to its staff is a chilling example of the threats that new, expansive restrictions on abortion rights pose to freedom of expression, and a deeply troubling instance of administrative censorship,” said Summer Lopez, chief program officer of Free Expression at PEN America. “The language of Idaho’s abortion law is vague, but the university’s guidance risks doing the censors’ work for them, instilling in faculty the fear of professional and even criminal repercussions for mention of abortion or contraception. “The guidance issued by the University demonstrates how this law tramples not just on reproductive rights, but on the academic freedom of faculty and students,” Lopez continued. “The state’s attack on reproductive freedom has now expanded to free inquiry in the classroom and in teacher-student interactions, in violation of free speech principles.”

New Op-Ed Series Focused on the Freedom to Learn to Launch in Washington Post’s ‘Made by History’ Section

August 2, 2022
“We’re excited to partner with the Washington Post’s Made by History to support high-quality, well-researched analysis by professional historians on the unprecedented threats to our education system,” said Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN America. “Over the past five years, the Made By History team has developed a consistent track record of excellence in publishing insightful historical analysis of current trends. PEN America is thrilled to support their work and to help educate readers about the extraordinary challenges teachers are confronting today.”

Failed Bill Brought by Arizona Democrats Would Have Restricted What Teachers Can Teach

July 5, 2022
"Had HB 2634 become law, Arizona teachers might have been unable to assign materials that depict historical or literary instances of discrimination to educate students about why discrimination is wrong -- such as the Supreme Court's Plessy v. Ferguson decision or the works of Pulitzer Prizewinning author Toni Morrison."
More on Educational Censorship >

Tip Sheet

If you live in the United States, it’s likely that your state legislature or school district has either passed an educational gag order or is considering doing so.

Want to help combat this threat to free expression, but don’t know where to start? Here are a few steps you can take as a citizen to help change the conversation in your community.

Sign up to receive email updates about PEN America’s vital work on educational gag orders and other threats to free expression in education.

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