NEW YORK—Efforts by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) to intimidate and punish a critic constitute an unconscionable ethical breach of lawmakers’ duty to uphold core constitutional rights of expression, association, and assembly, PEN America said in statement today.

Rep. Frelinghuysen, a Republican representing a district in northern New Jersey, has faced increasingly vocal opposition and persistent demands for him to hold a town hall forum. Frelinghuysen cited the mounting outcry in a recent fundraising letter denouncing “organized forces” attempting to put a stop to “limited government, economic growth, [and] stronger national security.” The letter was mailed to a board member of a local bank with a handwritten note at the bottom that the “ringleader” of these efforts worked at the bank. Attached to the letter was a news article that mentioned an employee of the bank—a senior vice president and assistant general counsel—by name as a leader of a group seeking greater public responsiveness from Frelinghuysen. According to WNYC, the employee was “questioned and criticized” by her supervisors, and this pressure contributed to her decision to resign.

“For a Congressman to menace a constituent in retaliation for her efforts to compel him to meet with the people he represents by complaining to her employer is simply astonishing,” said Katy Glenn Bass, PEN America’s director of free expression research and policy. “Frelinghuysen is an elected representative with a duty to respect and uphold the right to express peaceful dissent. His blatant abuse of power could cast a powerful chill over other peaceful dissenters, who now must worry their jobs could be at risk for exercising their First Amendment rights.”

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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: Sarah Edkins, Director of Communications, sedkins@pen.org, +1.646.779.4830