NEW YORK—PEN America, a leading voice for the importance of literature in civic life, filed a friend of the court brief yesterday urging the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to recognize Americans’ constitutional right of access to literacy.

PEN America filed the amicus in the case of Gary B v. Snyder, in which students at Detroit Public Schools have brought suit against the State of Michigan for their failure to provide the basic educational standards necessary to ensure that these children have a functional level of literacy. Within their suit, these Detroit-area students described the conditions of their education, among them: unsanitary and dangerous conditions, an absence of appropriate textbooks or even reading material, and overcrowded classrooms. As a result, many of these students are unable to read, write, or process written material at anything approaching grade level.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan dismissed the students’ suit in June, and the case is now on appeal before the federal Sixth Circuit.

“Depriving these children—our children—of access to literacy is an unacceptable and immoral tragedy for them. It is also a tragedy for all of us that is and should be unconstitutional,” PEN America argues in its brief. Within the brief, PEN America referred to two of its original research reports—Missing from the Shelf: Book Challenges and the Lack of Diversity in Children’s Literature, and Faking News: Fraudulent News and the Fight for Truth—to demonstrate the essential role of literacy in enabling children to become educated and engaged citizens, and to be provided with the opportunity to achieve their potential as adults.

“The complete failure of the state of Michigan to ensure a basic standard of literacy for these students is not only an outrage, it is also unconstitutional.” said James Tager, Deputy Director of Free Expression Research and Policy. “PEN America has championed the freedom to write and to read for almost a hundred years, and we recognize that this freedom to read is inextricable from the right, firstly, of access to literacy. As an organization of writers and readers, we can proudly attest to how literacy is essential to meaningful social and political participation in our communities. With this brief, we are urging the Sixth Circuit to do the right thing and to take this step towards recognizing the right of access to literacy.”

PEN America, founded in 1922, is an organization of over 7,000 writers and their allies, and the American chapter of the PEN International movement. Through the work of its member-led Committees such as the Children and Young Adult Books Committee and the Writers in the Schools Committee, as well as through its original research and advocacy, PEN America has consistently pushed for the right to read within various American communities. 

The full text of the amicus brief can be found here


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.

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: