PEN America Speaks: How We Defended and Celebrated Free Expression The Week of July 24
PEN America works tirelessly to defend free expression, support persecuted writers, and promote literary culture. Here are some of the latest ways PEN America is speaking out.
- PEN America hosted the annual Free Expression Advocacy Institute in New York City, a week-long, in-person program providing high school students with educational and training programs in the theories, history, and techniques of free expression advocacy.
- First-grade teacher Melissa Tempel was fired from her Wisconsin school for tweeting that her class had been blocked from performing “Rainbowland” by Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus at their spring concert, a move PEN America called “an extreme and punitive overreaction.” In an interview with editorial director Lisa Tolin, Tempel said she plans to file a federal lawsuit in the coming weeks claiming that her First Amendment rights were violated. “This is merely the latest case in an alarming wave of censorship that is chilling the work of teachers in profound ways,” said Jonathan Friedman, PEN America’s director of Free Expression and Education programs.
- Viktorya Vilk, digital safety director at PEN America, spoke to NPR’s Here and Now about her new report about online abuse, “Shouting Into the Void.”
- Voice of America’s weekly “Inside Story” feature included an in-depth conversation with PEN America’s Karin Karlekar on Iran.
- PEN America and PEN International signed onto a letter to the Biden Administration urging them to reconsider providing aid to Egypt in light of the country’s continued human rights violations. In the letter, over 20 human rights organizations joined PEN in calling out President the government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s merciless crackdown on the press, political opposition, and civil society.
- PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection responded to the Iranian government transferring Saman Yasin to a psychiatric center following the release of Yasin’s audio message refuting the Iranian government’s charges against him and their ban on using his own lawyer while in detention.
- PEN America said the proposed Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) has the potential to undermine online privacy, security, and free expression, while harming the very people the bill aims to protect, namely children.
- PEN America said a decision to convert 28 school libraries in Houston into centers for students identified as “disruptive” is a “disturbing” development that robs students of the critical access to books, ideas and knowledge.
- Hannah Waltz wrote for Tech Policy Press about the need for a holistic approach to disinformation, based on our recent report, Building Resilience: Identifying Community Solutions to Targeted Disinformation.
- PEN America called out the investigation and censuring of Texas A&M professor Joy Alonzo as “blatantly inappropriate” after she criticized Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick in a lecture. Alonzo was placed on leave after the lecture in March and was formally censured but the investigation cleared her of any wrongdoing. “This debacle is deeply at odds with the fundamental protections that must exist for the exchange of ideas at colleges and universities,” said Kristen Shahverdian, senior manager in PEN America’s Free Expression and Education program.
- A coalition of booksellers and publishers filed a lawsuit in Texas in response to the signing of HB 900 into law by Governor Greg Abbott. The law will require book vendors to create ratings for “sexual relevance” on books for K-12 schools,” a clear effort to “intimidate publishers and police the circulation of ideas and information,” according to Jonathan Friedman.
- Leisl Gerntholtz, Inaugural Director, PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center wrote an op-ed calling for Russia’s destruction of Ukrainian cultural sites to be treated as war crimes. The piece gives specific attention to the recent bombing in Odessa which caused damage to three museums and the city’s cathedral.
- Hannah Waltz wrote a piece for Tech Policy Press on disinformation based on her recent report for PEN America, Building Resilience: Identifying Community Solutions to Targeted Disinformation. Waltz wrote the report emphasizing the importance of trusted messaging from sources like local journalists during her time as a consultant for PEN’s Disinformation and Community Engagement program.
- Time magazine highlighted PEN America’s defense of Ukrainian writers in a story about writers taking a political stand in the current global climate.
- The Digital Public Library of America announced the launch of The Banned Book Club—an initiative that uses PEN America’s data on book banning combined with GPS to provide free access to online copies of removed or restricted books in your area.