Earlier this month, American Atheists filed a lawsuit against Arkansas State Senator Jason Rapert — best known to readers of this site for erecting an unconstitutional Ten Commandments monument outside the State Capitol — for blocking four residents on Facebook and Twitter.
You can read more details about the case here, but Rapert’s defense boils down to the idea that he’s blocking them on his personal accounts, not his official government ones. See?! He’s not doing anything illegal!
American Atheists filed two documents this week taking issue with that argument. They say that Rapert doesn’t really distinguish between his accounts the way he suggests, and that he routinely conducts official business under what he says are his personal accounts.
That’s why AA is asking the judge to ignore Rapert’s motion to dismiss their case.
Senator Rapert presents the Accounts to the public as ones that he operates in his official capacity… His Facebook page states: “This page is for communication with constitutents and citizens”… The Twitter page associated with the account is registered to “Sen. Jason Rapert.” and links to Rapert’s official profile on the Arkansas State Senate’s website.
Senator Rapert offers and uses the Accounts as forums for discussion and debate about community events, as well as his policy positions and official acts… Therefore, the Accounts are instruments of his Arkansas Senate office, like digital town hall meetings where individual users receive information about Arkansas government and exchange their views on matters of public concern… On the Accounts, Senator Rapert communicates with his constituents, promotes businesses and events in his district, honors the accomplishments of constituents, informs users about government job openings in his district, delivers safety messages, and performs other duties intrinsic to his role as a state legislator…
AA’s president was far more blunt about what all this meant:
“Rapert is either incredibly incompetent or intentionally misleading the court when he claims he’s using social media for personal use only,” said American Atheists President Nick Fish. “Anyone who spends more than 30 seconds on Rapert’s social media accounts can see that he uses them for official purposes.”
In a separate request for a preliminary injunction, AA also made the case that they were likely to win this case on the merits and they needed the judge to act now so their clients could keep tabs on what Rapert was doing as an elected official.
No government officials has the right to block people from knowing what he’s saying or doing on their behalf just because they’re atheists. He can pretend he’s just trying to block trolls on his personal account, but any close look at who he’s blocking, why he’s blocking them, and from where he’s doing it makes clear he has crossed the line into an illegal action. Instead of saying he’s sorry and fixing the problem, he’s holding his breath in a fit of rage until a judge makes him do the right thing.
Arkansas citizens deserve better representation than that. They deserve someone who doesn’t use his public platform to advance his private religious agenda.