(NEW YORK)— PEN America said today a Tennessee bill that would open book publishers and distributors to criminal prosecution for sending “obscene materials” to public schools is a censorious effort to “intimidate and chill” the publishing industry. The free expression organization called on Gov. Bill Lee to reject signing Senate Bill 1059.

Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s Free Expression and Education program, issued the following comments on the bill:

“Regardless of what the supporters of this law say, it serves little purpose other than to intimidate and chill the publishing industry.  As we have been seeing across the country, this proposed law is another attempt to weaponize government power to legislate book banning through threats and fear. Rather than seek to intimidate teachers or librarians, this bill targets publishers, a blatant attempt to extend the censorious climate surrounding books in schools to constrain choices to create and distribute books and school materials in the first place. Strengthening the potential for felony charges against publishers and distributors harkens back in history decades and decades ago when government sought to stymie the circulation of new ideas and information — eras associated with the very definition of censorship and suppression. This bill reflects common tactics by authoritarian governments abroad. Governor Lee ought to reject signing in favor of standing for the principles of liberty and openness that are meant to anchor both the American publishing industry and the public education system.”

The TN House of Representatives approved Senate Bill 1059 in a 71-22 vote. It already passed the Senate last week, and now heads to Lee’s desk.

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. To learn more visit PEN.org 

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