First Five Newsletter: February 6, 2020

First Five
False information about Iowa’s voter rolls, fight to weaken internet platform shields, “First Amendment cynicism” and more.

First Five Column

Gene Policinski talks about free expression and it’s First Amendment protections, relating to a proposed Arizona House Bill on access to online content. Policinski writes how online platforms and social media sites are free to set their own practices and rules on what we do see or post, but this bill could change that. Read the column. A plain text version is available for publishers here.


Conservative non-profit Judicial Watch spread false and misleading information about Iowa’s voter rolls in the hours leading up to the state’s first-in-the-nation caucus on Monday. The organization’s claims that Iowa had more voters on its registration rolls than were eligible to vote spread quickly on social media. Twitter and Facebook declined to remove posts spreading the disinformation because they said the posts were not specifically designed to suppress the vote or mislead people about how to vote.


A motley group of powerful companies, including IBM, Marriott and Disney, are fighting to weaken Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, “which shields internet platforms from lawsuits over content posted by users.”


Virginia delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg has introduced a bill to Virginia’s legislature that would make it harder to get away with so-called SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) suits: nuisance litigation designed to bury its targets in paperwork and fees. “It’s critically important,” states Alison Friedman, the principal advocate for the bill. “Our democracy is only as strong as people’s ability to speak up and be heard when there are threats to the public interest. SLAPP lawsuits go to the heart of that.”


A law review article by the University of Dayton School of Law’s Erica Goldberg discusses the vicious cycle of “First Amendment cynicism,” which occurs when, “…the perception by those on the political left that the right is applying the First Amendment cynically… leads the left to lose faith in First Amendment principles. Some on the left then engage in First Amendment cynicism, not applying the First Amendment to those that harm their agenda. This approach is then observed by the right, and the cycle continues.”


Writing for The Hill, Holly HollmanĀ argues that allowing educational vouchers to be used for religious education actually undermines religious liberty. Commenting on the case of Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which was recently argued at the U.S. Supreme Court, Hollman writes that the provisions in many state constitutions that prohibit taxpayer dollars from being spent on religious schools “protect religious liberty by guarding the rights of people of all faiths and the non-religious. They remind us that religion is distinctive and beyond the competence of the government. They are the corollary to special religious exemptions that religious schools enjoy. These commonsense measures ensure that religious institutions are accountable to and dependent on their religious communities, not government entities.”

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