Atheists challenge Jason Rapert on social media blocking policy UPDATE | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Atheists challenge Jason Rapert on social media blocking policy UPDATE

Posted By on Tue, Oct 2, 2018 at 12:21 PM

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American Atheists have sued Republican Sen. Jason Rapert in federal court for his practice of blocking critics from his Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The lawsuit contends the blocking is a violation of the U.S. Constitution and state law. It contends people were blocked for expressing different viewpoints on his official social media accounts and also because the plaintiffs were atheists.

Said a news release:

“The senator’s conduct constitutes viewpoint discrimination, which is prohibited under the First Amendment. Government officials cannot take hostile actions—like limiting participation in public forums—against someone simply because they have different beliefs,” said Alison Gill, American Atheists’ Legal and Policy Director. “These forums include social media accounts used by public officials for government purposes.

“The Supreme Court has been clear that social media platforms are perhaps the most powerful mechanisms for citizens to make their voices heard,” Gill added. “And now multiple federal courts have ruled that blocking citizens from participating in this forum is an unconstitutional violation of their freedom of speech.”

“Senator Rapert has a duty to represent all of his constituents, not just the ones who share his religious views, and on that duty, he is failing miserably,” said American Atheists President Nick Fish. “Anyone capitalizing on their elected office to advance their particular religious viewpoint seriously misunderstands the foundation on which America was built.”
Matt Campbell of Little Rock is the lawyer in the case. He is also the man behind Blue Hog Report, a muckraking website. Said Campbell:

“Senator Rapert's own comments demonstrate that his actions were motivated by animus toward atheists and those who support the constitutional separation of religion and government.”
The suit seeks access to Rapert's public forums, nominal damages, punitive damages and attorney fees.

Here's the full complaint.  Also, you can find more here about the atheist organization.

Note: There's no U.S. Supreme Court precedent yet on politicians' blocking people, but trial courts have found disfavor with the practice, including with Donald Trump's blocking of people from his Twitter account. Here's analysis of a case in Virginia winding through the courts. Rapert has defended his actions at times as being actions on personal rather than official accounts.

I've sent notes to Rapert seeking comment. Don't know if I'll get one directly, but given that nothing riles him as much as atheists, I expect he'll be heard from before long. In the exchange below, Rapert unloads on his Democratic challenger.

UPDATE: Rapert took to Facebook with a video in response. Of course the lawsuit is politically motivated, he said. But this part is rich:

"There is no doubt that this is a politically motivated lawsuit intended to silence me as a Christian conservative representing the people of Arkansas in the Arkansas Senate," Rapert said. "The American Atheists and other extremists have been trying to tarnish my reputation and have defamed my good name, our business and our ministry for several years now."
Nobody has tried to silence Rapert. How could you? They've simply tried to be heard among his whining and oh-so-persecuted self. Got five minutes and a strong stomach?

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