***Update***: State Sen. Rapert has responded to the lawsuit on Facebook, calling it a “frivolous” and “politically motivated lawsuit intended to silence me as a Christian conservative.”
American Atheists has filed a lawsuit against Arkansas State Senator Jason Rapert for reasons that have nothing to do with his unconstitutional Ten Commandments monument. The group represents four Arkansas residents who were blocked by Rapert on Facebook and Twitter after making statements critical of his policy positions.
AA says this “constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment and violates other constitutional protections.” (A similar lawsuit was successfully filed against Donald Trump last year.)
The lawsuit itself cites Rapert saying he blocks “liberal extremists” as opposed to using some neutral criteria:
— Sen. Jason Rapert (@jasonrapert) October 3, 2016
It also mentions how, even though profanity is listed as a reason Rapert might ban someone from seeing his social media posts, users who curse but agree with his views have not been banned. Neither have people who agree with Rapert but “encourage others to commit criminal acts,” “disparage others for their religious views,” or “accuse others of crimes.”
This isn’t just petty. Being blocked on Twitter or Facebook by an elected official means these citizens can’t see posts by Rapert that may affect them or which may spur them to take action.
“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.”
An immediate request for comment from Rapert went unanswered.
AA is asking the Court to declare his actions unconstitutional and issue an injunction requiring Rapert to unblock the plaintiffs, maintain records regarding how he restricts people on social media from interacting with him, and not use his platforms to disparage those who disagree with him regarding religion. Also, they want him to pay nominal and punitive damages.
Will it work? It should. It did with Trump. It also wouldn’t take much for Rapert to make things right; all he has to do is mature and realize he wasn’t elected to be a pastor but to represent all of his constituents. Including those who hold different points of view.