Little Rock, AR—Today, the civil rights organization American Atheists announced a successful settlement against Christian nationalist Jason Rapert. This Arkansas state senator—who is also the president and founder of the Christian nationalist organization, National Association of Christian Lawmakers—discriminated against his atheist constituents and violated their freedom of speech.
As part of the agreement, the state of Arkansas, on behalf of Rapert, will pay American Atheists more than $16,000, and he will immediately unblock his atheist constituents from his official social media accounts, restoring their ability to communicate directly with the state senator and fellow constituents. In addition, if he decides to block the plaintiffs while still in office, he will be required to provide American Atheists with written documentation showing possible wrongdoing.
“This is a victory for freedom of speech and equality for atheists,” said Geoffrey T. Blackwell, Litigation Counsel for American Atheists. “Let Jason Rapert be an example to all the Christian nationalist lawmakers and would-be theocrats in our country. If you spread hate and then try to escape accountability, you will face the consequences.”
“Time and time again, Jason Rapert called our lawsuit ‘frivolous’ and claimed he would ‘never bow down,’” said Nick Fish, president of American Atheists. “The only things that were ‘frivolous’ were Rapert’s legal arguments. He repeatedly lost to us in court and was going to lose this case. We’re glad he finally saw the writing on the wall and chose to change course, unblock our clients, and settle.”
The organization Senator Rapert leads, the National Association of Christian Lawmakers, has member lawmakers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. It has spread harmful model bills across the country, including legislation analogous to Texas Senate Bill 8, the vigilante abortion ban.
In Arkansas, Rapert sponsored a law requiring a Ten Commandments monument outside the State Capitol, helped force “In God We Trust” displays into every classroom to indoctrinate children, and introduced an outright abortion ban without exceptions for rape, and incest, or even the health of the mother.
And last month, he called for a bill that would ban Arkansans from crossing state lines to get abortion care. The legislation is so extreme that Governor Asa Hutchinson, who signed Rapert’s complete abortion ban into law, opposes it.
“We encourage atheists—and all Americans—to speak out against Jason Rapert’s and all Christian nationalists’ hateful attacks on reproductive rights and religious freedom, and we will continue to defend their right to do so,” said Fish. “Christian nationalism is an existential threat to our democracy and the future of our country. Christian nationalists are not above the law. Our victory today proves it.”
“By barring Arkansas critics from his official social media accounts, Senator Rapert created an echo chamber of self-agreeing citizens. This is not the American way. Exposing ourselves to other points of view creates an opportunity for learning and acceptance,” said Karen Dempsey, one of the named Arkansas plaintiffs. “Returning to the public forum will allow me to hear what others think and to share my thoughts. I am grateful to American Atheists for taking on this case and prevailing in the face of injustice.”
—named Arkansas plaintiff Karen Dempsey
“An Arkansas legislator with a public forum should listen and respond to the concerns of all Arkansans, not just the concerns of supporters. True leadership would encompass common sense policies to improve the lives of Arkansans, not spend tax dollars putting on dramatic performances using antiquated ideals and stale rhetoric. I would like to thank the American Atheists legal team and local Arkansas attorneys for their inspiring hard work and dedication to this cause.
—named Arkansas plaintiff Catherine Shoshone
“This outcome once again confirms that the Constitution means what it says. No one—not even the privileged elite who allegedly revere the First Amendment—can trample the rights of others. But the promise of the Constitution cannot be fulfilled without church-state separation organizations like American Atheists and the pro bono service of other lawyers willing to invest their time in the pursuit of justice.”
—Little Rock-based attorney Abtin Mehdizadegan, who assisted American Atheists as pro bono local counsel in the case