PEN America Joins Legal Effort Defending the Right to Protest in Oklahoma
Oklahoma Bill At Issue Would Stifle Freedom of Assembly
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, N.Y.)– PEN America today joined the Protect Democracy Project and the Niskanen Center in an amicus brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, urging the court to uphold a lower court’s preliminary injunction against an Oklahoma anti-protest law. State statute HB1674, enacted in response to Black Lives Matter and related protests, attaches broad liability against anyone deemed to be connected to an unlawful riot, extending the threat of prosecution to those engaging in peaceful assembly. It also severely limits the right to protest, both by imposing harsh penalties for public street obstruction and by shielding drivers who injure or kill protestors from civil or criminal liability in certain cases.
“HB 1674 is not just an anti-protest law; it is an anti-democratic law,” said Nadine Farid Johnson, PEN America’s Washington director. “If enacted, its vague allusions to “conspirators” and broad strictures on public protest would stifle and suppress the right of Oklahomans to engage in freedom of assembly. HB 1674 are worrisome facsimiles of the laws promulgated by authoritarian regimes, and they risk undercutting critical, founding democratic principles. We are proud to join the Protect Democracy Project and the Niskanen Center as amici and urge the Court of Appeals to uphold the District Court’s injunction.”
The bill is part of a much larger trend of anti-protest bills introduced in reaction to Black Lives Matter demonstrations. PEN America released Closing Ranks: State Legislators Deepen Assaults on the Right to Protest in May 2021, tracking the flood of anti-protest legislation in the year after the murder of George Floyd, including Ohio’s HB 109. This followed the 2020 report Arresting Dissent: Legislative Restrictions on the Right to Protest, which documented such bills introduced from 2015 to 2019. In both reports, PEN America explains how these types of bills are best understood as attempts to restrict protest-related conduct and expression.
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