(NEW YORK)– PEN America today joins Children’s Defense Fund, Students Engaged in Advancing Texas (SEAT), ACLU of Texas, Texas Freedom Network, EveryLibrary, Texas Freedom to Read Project, and the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) in supporting Texas students defending the freedom to read in response to HB 900. This controversial Texas law requires book vendors to rate books for sexual content prior to selling them to public schools. 

The law went into effect on September 1. BookPeople v. Wong, which seeks to overturn HB 900, was heard this week by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals after the state appealed a district court ruling that the law “violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”

Kasey Meehan, Freedom to Read program director at PEN America, said: “We stand with Texas students in rejecting HB 900. This law, which forces private companies and public school districts to do the state’s dirty work for them, has already led to self-censorship and confusion in public schools across the state, threatening the freedom to read for all Texans.” 

During the 2022-2023 school year, PEN America recorded over 600 instances of book bans across twelve Texas school districts. After Florida, Texas accounts for the highest number of book bans. If HB 900 is implemented, the number of book bans is expected to increase. 

Students have the right to receive information and to read freely in their school libraries. HB 900 threatens these fundamental rights. 

Maggie Stern, youth engagement manager at the Children’s Defense Fund of Texas said: “Students have the right to read books that reflect their own lives, teach them about others’ lives, and inspire them to lead. HB 900 has emboldened a small group of book banners to strip these lifesaving resources from hundreds of thousands of Texas students.” 

In the statement, the groups noted that over the past two years, Texas students have demonstrated leadership by forming banned books clubs and testifying in support of an honest education. Da’Taeveyon Daniels, high school senior in Fort Worth, Texas and SEAT partnerships director said: “Texas students speak loud and clear: we demand the freedom to read. HB 900 is a blatant attempt to restrict access to books that reflect our lives and expand our understanding of the world. We will not be silenced.” 

The groups are urging Texans to write to their lawmakers to oppose the law and stand with students calling for the freedom to read. Join the campaign to email lawmakers here.

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. Visit: pen.org

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057