(WASHINGTON) — PEN America Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel today testified before a U.S. House of Representatives panel to sound the alarm about book bans and educational gag orders that are proliferating nationwide, describing how these censorious trends pose a grave threat to students’ First Amendment rights, to democracy overall, and damage the freedom to write and read.

Nossel joined impacted students and educators as well as the Yale University professor and historian Timothy Snyder to discuss how coordinated efforts to ban books and impose limits on classroom discussions represent an orchestrated attempt to silence marginalized voices and restrict students’ freedom to learn. Together, these campaigns amount to an #EdScare – as Nossel described it, a time when manufactured fear is winning out over reason.

You can read the full testimony here and watch a recording of the hearing here.

Since 2021 PEN America has tracked the introduction of 185 educational gag order bills in 41 states. Nineteen have become law in 15 states that are home to an estimated 122 million Americans. Over the last ten months, PEN America has also documented more than 1,500 book bans in 26 states, including essential works such as Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye; Art Spiegelman’s Maus; and biographies of Ruby Bridges, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nossel, a former diplomat and veteran human rights advocate, warned that these disturbing trends at home tarnish America’s global image and undermine the effort to counter rising authoritarianism. “As an advocate who has championed stalwart U.S. leadership on free speech issues worldwide, I barely recognize my own country,” Nossel told the panel of House lawmakers.

The young people who joined Nossel at Thursday’s hearing included ​​Krisha Ramani, a student from Oakland County, Mich., who told lawmakers about feeling alienated from her peers who ate “normal” food at lunch. When Ramani’s family moved to another community with a more significant South Asian population, Ramani said she felt validated by individuals who could relate to her own experiences.

“But so many students in this country are not afforded the luxury of living in a community with diverse perspectives,” Ramani said. “So many students in this country still feel different, and that’s where the power of literature comes in. Books help us connect with people who may be going through the same experiences.”

Nossel warned that efforts to banish these diverse stories from classrooms undermine the very foundations of our nation’s democracy.

“Laws banning curriculum and books are not about giving parents a stronger say in schools, Nossel said. “They are an orchestrated effort to polarize, intimidate, and restrict the flow of ideas.”

About PEN America

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. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, STrimel@PEN.org, 201-247-5057