Little Rock, AR—December 15, 2020—Today, the civil rights organization American Atheists celebrated a victory in its lawsuit for free speech and religious equality against Arkansas State Senator Stanley Jason Rapert. Judge Kristine G. Baker of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas denied Rapert’s supplemental motion to dismiss the lawsuit against him in his individual capacity.
Judge Baker agreed with American Atheists on each and every argument Rapert raised in his motion. She ruled that two of American Atheists’ four plaintiffs are not barred by Arkansas’ three-year statute of limitations, since they “allege that State Senator Rapert continues to violate their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.” Similarly, Judge Baker determined that American Atheists can sue on behalf of members who are not named as plaintiffs in the case. Finally, she ruled that American Atheists had properly notified Rapert that he was being sued in both his individual and official capacities.
“Jason Rapert’s legal arguments never held water, and now the court has told him so. Our clients are already preparing for their day in court, and I expect the court to ultimately grant us the injunction we are seeking. Rapert will have to respect the First Amendment rights of his constituents and of all Arkansans,” said Geoffrey Blackwell, Litigation Counsel at American Atheists.
In 2018, American Atheists filed the lawsuit on behalf of its members in Arkansas, including four individual plaintiffs, whom Sen. Rapert unconstitutionally blocked from his official Facebook and Twitter accounts after they criticized his positions on several issues, including abortion and government endorsements of Christianity. American Atheists’ complaint also alleges that Rapert blocked the plaintiffs due to their atheism. In November of this year, Sen. Rapert introduced an outright abortion ban without exceptions for rape and incest, which he described as “the trigger” to overturn Roe v. Wade.
In a tweet from 2014, Cathey Shoshone, one of the plaintiffs, suggested that Rapert support easy access to birth control: “That’s how you s[l]ow down abortion. How do you not see that?” Robert Barringer, another named plaintiff, was blocked by Rapert after pointing out that the Bible contains instructions for causing abortions in Numbers, a passage often referred to as the “Test for an Unfaithful Wife.”
Last year, Jason Rapert announced plans to run for lieutenant governor in 2022. Also last year, Judge Baker noted in a previous decision that American Atheists has a “fair chance of prevailing” in the current lawsuit. “If Sen. Rapert becomes lieutenant governor, our victory in this case would follow him. He’d be accountable to the entire state of Arkansas and be under even more intense scrutiny,” said Blackwell.
“As lieutenant governor, Rapert must represent all Arkansans—not just extremists who share his Christian nationalist worldview,” said Nick Fish, president of American Atheists. “This case is a loud signal to theocratic, totalitarian officials: You don’t have the right to shut down debate and target people for their religion or lack thereof, period.”
American Atheists thanks Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus, P.C. for serving as local counsel in this matter.