(New York, NY) – The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Thursday that the right to a basic education, meaning one that provides access to literary education, is a fundamental right under the Constitution. The court made this holding in the case of Gary B. v. Whitmer, a lawsuit brought by students of several of Detroit’s worst-performing schools. The case will be sent back to a lower court for a new ruling. 

PEN America filed an amicus brief in support of the students’ position that access to literacy is a fundamental right. In response to the news, PEN America’s deputy director of free expression research and policy, James Tager, said:

“This ruling affirms one of the most commonsense yet profound concepts in society: There is a fundamental right to read. Literacy is the spark that animates the First Amendment. Without access to literacy, freedom of speech and of expression are just words on a page, inaccessible to broad segments of the population. In order for our democracy to function, every citizen must have the opportunity to fully partake in public life. As this case continues, we hope that the circuit court’s decision will translate into real change for these students who are fighting for their own right to a basic education.”

Read our entire friend of the court filing here.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, sfee@pen.org, +1 202 309 8892