(NEW YORK) – PEN America said today that the decision by the Montana House to bar Rep. Zooey Zephyr from the House floor, preventing her from participating in debate, is a “betrayal of the democratic process” and a disturbing use of official censure in response to the exercise of free expression.

Beginning last week, the Montana House majority leader repeatedly denied Rep. Zooey Zephyr the ability to speak on any issue, and on Monday protesters were arrested at the Montana Statehouse as they gathered to oppose her silencing.

On Wednesday, the House voted 68-32 to bar Rep. Zephyr from the House floor for the remainder of the legislative session. She will be able to vote remotely, but will not be able to participate in debate. Zephyr is Montana’s first transgender representative, and she originally sought to speak in opposition to legislation that would deny gender-affirming care to transgender people and other legislation aimed at the transgender community.

“This decision by the Montana House is deeply disturbing, especially on the heels of similar actions by the Tennessee legislature to expel lawmakers and silence protesterse,” said Kate Ruane, director of the US free expression programs at PEN America. “It’s perfectly reasonable for legislatures to have and enforce rules of decorum that permit the body to operate. The ability and willingness to uphold norms of civility and respectful exchange across differences are essential to a functioning democracy.  But that does not mean deliberations will not get heated, or that intense passions can be the basis for punishment. The weaponization of decorum rules to retaliate against an elected official for engaging in robust debate is a betrayal of the democratic process. This decision unjustly denies both Rep. Zephyr and her constituents the opportunity to be heard.”

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