(NEW YORK) – Today, as the Tennessee legislature considers a resolution to expel members who joined a protest at the state Capitol last week over a school shooting, PEN America condemned this punishment as “far too grave,” saying the right to protest is paramount.

Last Thursday, in the wake of a shooting at an elementary school in Nashville that claimed the lives of children, teachers, and school employees, peaceful protesters gathered in the Tennessee Capitol building to advocate for stricter gun laws. As the protesters gathered outside the House chamber, three legislators interrupted legislative business to lead the protesters in chants from the House floor. The lawmakers had not been recognized to speak and their actions interrupted legislative business for a period of about an hour, therefore, their participation in the peaceful protest violated the Tennessee Legislature’s rules. As punishment for this breach, the Tennessee legislature, today, is considering a resolution that would expel these members from the chamber.

PEN America issued the following statement condemning the proposed punishment

“The right to protest is paramount. Community members have a right to be heard by the lawmakers who serve them, and legislators have a duty to represent the voices of their constituents,” said Kate Ruane, PEN America’s Sy Sims director, U.S. free expression programs. “These legislators may have breached the rules, but more importantly they were listening to their constituents and giving voice to their concerns in the halls of power, which was exactly what they were elected to do. If any disciplinary action is warranted due to the brief, non-violent interruption of business, expulsion is far too grave a consequence for both these representatives and the constituents they represent.”

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, [email protected], 201-247-5057