Athe­ist free speech suit against Arkansas of­fi­cial pro­ceeds

The Saline Courier - - NEWS -

LIT­TLE ROCK — Mem­bers of an athe­ist group have a “fair chance of pre­vail­ing” in their law­suit against an Arkansas state sen­a­tor whom they ac­cuse of vi­o­lat­ing their free speech rights by block­ing them from leav­ing com­ments on his work-re­lated Face­book and Twit­ter posts, a judge ruled.

U.S. Dis­trict Judge Kris­tine Baker on Mon­day al­lowed the Amer­i­can Athe­ists group’s law­suit against Repub­li­can state Sen. Ja­son Rapert to pro­ceed to trial, though she de­nied the group’s re­quest to is­sue an in­junc­tion that would have forced Rapert to im­me­di­ately un­block the group, the Arkansas Demo­crat-gazette re­ported.

“Rapert has re­peat­edly called our law­suit against him ‘friv­o­lous.’ (The) de­ci­sion should put an end to that ridicu­lous claim,” said Ge­of­frey Black­well, the at­tor­ney for the athe­ist group. “The Arkansans Rapert has blocked will get their day in court, and we have ev­ery con­fi­dence we’ll pre­vail.”

The plain­tiffs ar­gue that as an elected of­fi­cial, Rapert’s posts are a pub­lic fo­rum that should be ac­ces­si­ble to them.

Rapert ar­gues that the First Amend­ment also pro­tects his right as a pri­vate cit­i­zen to shut out those who re­spond with per­sonal at­tacks or bul­ly­ing.

The judge, how­ever, wrote in her de­ci­sion that Rapert’s ac­counts rely on the power and pres­tige of his state of­fice and were cre­ated to per­form ac­tual or ap­par­ent du­ties of that of­fice

While Rapert main­tains sev­eral Twit­ter and Face­book ac­counts, only one ac­count on each plat­form is at is­sue in the law­suit: @Ja­sonrapert on Twit­ter and the “Sen. Ja­son Rapert” Face­book page.

Baker noted that Rapert uses those ac­counts in his ca­pac­ity as a state of­fi­cial. She said she thinks the plain­tiffs have a fair chance of pre­vail­ing on their ar­gu­ment that Rapert “en­gaged in view­point dis­crim­i­na­tion when he blocked plain­tiffs on Twit­ter ac­count and Face­book page,” not­ing that the state pro­hibits of­fi­cials from ex­clud­ing view­points with which they dis­agree.

In an­other sim­i­lar case, a fed­eral ap­peals court in July ruled that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump vi­o­lated the First Amend­ment when­ever he blocked a critic to si­lence a view­point.

Rapert has re­peat­edly clashed with groups over his poli­cies. He spon­sored the 2015 law re­quir­ing that a pri­vately funded Ten Com­mand­ments mon­u­ment be placed on Capi­tol grounds. Less than 24 hours af­ter its in­stal­la­tion, a man drove his car into the mon­u­ment, smash­ing it to pieces. The same man also de­stroyed a Ten Com­mand­ments mon­u­ment out­side of Ok­la­homa’s state Capi­tol.

Rapert’s sup­port for the mon­u­ment also prompted the Satanic Tem­ple to hold a First Amend­ment rally at the Arkansas Capi­tol fea­tur­ing a statue of a goat-headed, winged crea­ture called Baphomet.

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