Little Rock, AR—This week, American Atheists filed two documents in its federal lawsuit against Arkansas state Senator Jason Rapert. The lawsuit alleges that Rapert’s habit of blocking atheist constituents on social media violates their First Amendment rights.
In public statements and filings in the court, Rapert has repeatedly claimed that his social media accounts are private, not official, and therefore he can manage them as he sees fit.
“Countless pieces of evidence disprove Rapert’s claim,” said Litigation Counsel Geoffrey Blackwell. “If he believes his accounts are personal, he must be defining the words ‘official’ and ‘personal’ in a manner with which I am unfamiliar.”
Blackwell points to countless examples of Rapert using his “Sen. Jason Rapert” Facebook page, one of the social media platforms at issue in this litigation, as a public forum to discuss important policy matters with his constituents and seek their input. Until January 4, 2019, the “Sen. Jason Rapert” page even said, “This page is for communication with constituents and citizens.”
Rapert also uses the @JasonRapert Twitter account to communicate with his constituents. He has sought feedback from them on potential bills, tweeting that “constituents asked me & I asked constituents.” He has also affirmed that “responding to constituents is a part of the job description.”
In addition, Rapert has streamed at least 29 videos from Arkansas State Capitol facilities to which he has special access due to his elected position. This includes at least 28 videos from his own Senate office and at least one video from the Arkansas Governor’s Office during a bill signing.
“Like digital town hall meetings, these accounts serve as instruments of his Arkansas Senate office,” Blackwell continued. “On both Facebook and Twitter, Rapert performs duties intrinsic to his role as a state legislator. By shutting out his atheist constituents, he is preventing them from engaging in forums for discussion and debate, from being active citizens.”
“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.”