(NEW YORK)— PEN America has issued the following response from Nadine Farid Johnson, managing director of the Washington office and Free Expression Programs, on a Virginia state judge’s rejection of a court challenge in Virginia Beach that sought to stop Barnes & Noble from selling two books to minors — Gender Queer, A Memoir by Maia Kobabe and A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas — on grounds they are obscene for unrestricted reading by anyone under age 18.

Johnson said: “This decision is a victory for our Constitution and the vast majority of Americans who believe in preserving a free society and unfettered access to literature. The open exchange of ideas is fundamental to our democracy. By ensuring young people have unrestricted access to diverse viewpoints, we will empower them to be champions of democratic citizenship. While this particular legal challenge failed, it demonstrates that we must remain vigilant about the evolving and coordinated campaigns to intimidate booksellers and educators into banning books. Make no mistake: This pernicious movement shows no signs of slowing down, and it will take all of our best efforts to defend and reaffirm our First Amendment rights.” 

Tim Anderson, an attorney and a Republican member of the Virginia House of Delegates, and his client Tommy Altman, had attempted to use the courts to make these books available to minors only with parental consent based on an arcane Virginia obscenity law. Judge Pamela Baskervill, who heard the case, said the law was “facially invalid” and ruled that it allows unconstitutional “prior restraint” – which is the ability for the government to restrict speech or expression before it happens.

In a report earlier this year, PEN America documented more than 1,500 book bans across school districts in 26 states between July 2021 and March 2022, adding that this surge of censorship was “unparalleled in its intensity and frequency.” 

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