New York, NY, May 15, 2003—PEN, the worldwide association of professional writers, today joined with colleagues from the publishing, bookselling and library communities in calling upon Congress to safeguard one of our most cherished freedoms–the right of every American to read freely, without the government’s knowledge or intervention.

PEN was one of an impressive group of 32 organizations and businesses which issued a statement calling for passage of H.R. 1157, The Freedom to Read Protection Act. Introduced in the House in March by Congressman Bernard Sanders (I-VT), the legislation at last count had 85 Democratic and Republican co-sponsors. H.R. 1157 would exempt bookstore sales records and library circulation records from Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, hastily passed by Congress in the aftershock of 9/11, which gives FBI agents the ability to seize bookstore and library records with an order obtained from a secret court without having to show probable cause or even reasonable grounds to believe that the person whose records are sought has been involved in a crime. Passage of the Freedom to Read Protection Act would still allow law enforcement authorities to obtain these records, but under closer scrutiny by the courts.

Along with PEN, the Association of American Publishers, a host of regional publishers associations, the Authors Guild, national and regional booksellers associations including ABA and ABFFE, large chain bookstores including Barnes & Noble and Borders, and national and specialized library groups including ALA and the American Association of Law Libraries, joined in the statement. The full text of the statement along with a complete list of signatories can be found on the Free Expression Network web site at www.freeexpression.org/ftrpa.htm

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660, ext. 105, lsiems@pen.org