LITTLE ROCK, AR—American Atheists filed a federal civil rights lawsuit today in the Eastern District of Arkansas against State Senator Stanley Jason Rapert for violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and Arkansas state law.
The complaint was filed on behalf of American Atheists members in Arkansas, including four individual plaintiffs who were unconstitutionally blocked from Rapert’s official Facebook and Twitter accounts after they expressed viewpoints different than his on several issues. According to the complaint, Rapert also blocked the plaintiffs due to their atheism.
“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.”
Arkansas attorney Matt Campbell, an expert on civil rights, criminal law, and the appellate process, is American Atheists’ local counsel in the lawsuit. According to 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.”
American Atheists seeks a court order permitting the plaintiffs to participate in these public forums, as well as nominal damages, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees.
Rapert’s actions highlight the need for more atheists to speak out about their beliefs and challenge government officials who silence them in public forums, so American Atheists has launched Atheists ENGAGE, a campaign to fight viewpoint discrimination in public forums. Atheists who have been blocked by public officials on social media can send reports to [email protected].
For more information, visit atheistsENGAGE.org.