First Five Newsletter: June 20, 2019

First Five

Trump’s support for banning the desecration of the American flag, the Hatch Act, news avoidance and more.

First Five Column

Lata Nott examines the history of the Hatch Act and examines its relevance today, as well as the potential constraints it imposes on free speech. Read the column. A plain text version is available for publishers here.

News

President Trump tweeted his support for a Constitutional amendment to ban the desecration of the American flag, which was proposed by Republican Senators Steve Daines (Mont.) and Kevin Cramer (N.D.). Amending the Constitution would be necessary to ban flag burning because of the Supreme Court’s past rulings that flag burning is a form of free speech protected under the First Amendment.

Technology

In a split 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court maintained that the First Amendment does not apply to private platforms, including those that provide services to the government. The case concerned a nonprofit that ran several public access channels for New York City; two producers argued that their rights to freedom of expression were violated after being reprimanded by the organization for a film that sparked objection from viewers. The court’s decision that the nonprofit’s conduct is not subject to the First Amendment has alleviated concerns that this case might impact social media platforms’ authority to regulate their content.

Law

A jury in Ohio found that Oberlin College committed libel against a local bakery when Oberlin students petitioned their administration to stop using the business as a supplier for its cafeterias due to claims of racism. The ruling has outraged some First Amendment advocates who believe that colleges and universities should not be punished for the free expression of their students.

Scholarship

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford released its Digital News Report for 2019. Its findings point to the rise of a phenomenon known as news avoidance, as many people worldwide are opting to avoid keeping up with current events due to negative impacts on their happiness.

Commentary

Jonathan Zimmerman, writing for USA TODAY, argues that accusations that Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act infringe upon her freedom of speech. University of Texas School of Law Professor Steve Vladeck takes the opposite side of the issue, maintaining that Conway’s statements should not be considered protected speech.


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