“Fake News”: Preventing Falsehoods in Candidate Statements in Ballot Pamphlets
From Chief Justice Debra Stephens’ majority in Reykdal v. Espinoza, decided today by the Washington Supreme Court:
Incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal sued to have the Thurston County Superior Court order the removal of one allegedly defamatory line in the voters’ guide pamphlet from challenger Maia Espinoza’s candidate statement. The superior court agreed that there was a substantial likelihood Reykdal could succeed in a defamation suit based on Espinoza’s statement. Using a supervisory power conferred by [Washington Code §] 29A.32.090(3)(b), [which authorizes the removal of statements that are very likely libelous,] the superior court ordered the secretary of state to edit out the offending line….
The legislature passed a law—by request of Reykdal—requiring every public school to provide age-appropriate “comprehensive sexual health education” to each student at all grade levels by the 2022-23 school year. The law tasks the superintendent and the Department of Health with making the appropriate learning standards and guidelines available to school districts and teachers on their websites. The law also requires that the superintendent develop and publish a list of curricula as a resource for schools, teachers, and other organizations. Schools are encouraged to review the curricula and choose a curriculum from the provided list of resources.
Consistent with the law, the superintendent’s website provides a list of sexual health education resources. One of the resources listed includes a fourth grade curriculum from Advocates for Youth. This particular curriculum includes a handout for parents and guardians that refers users to additional resources, including the book It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health, by Robie H. Harris. The handout referencing the book states, “These resources all provide important, age-appropriate information about puberty and how our bodies change during this time. Please review these before sharing with your child so you feel ready to answer any questions they may have.” The book includes various illustrations of sexual health education material, including two pages with depictions of a couple having sexual intercourse in different positions.
Espinoza is one of six candidates who entered the 2020 primary for the superintendent of public instruction position. The secretary of state publishes a voters’ guide pamphlet for all elections involving statewide offices. Candidates for the superintendent position may submit a candidate statement and photograph for publication in the pamphlet. The statements may not exceed 200 words. The published voters’ guide pamphlets include a disclaimer on every page stating
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