State and Sen. Jason Rapert settle lawsuit over Facebook, Twitter blocking

State must pay American Atheists $16,000 in legal fees

By: - August 17, 2022 4:25 pm

State Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, reviews legislation during last week's special legislative session. Rapert has settled a lawsuit over his practice of blocking some users on his social media accounts.

The State of Arkansas and state Sen. Jason Rapert settled a lawsuit brought by an atheist group over Rapert’s practice of blocking certain users on social media.  

According to the settlement signed this week, Rapert must unblock several social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook, and the state will pay American Atheists, the organization that brought the suit, $16,291 in legal fees. 

Release and Settlement Agreement Rapert - Executed

 

“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.”

The six-term senator was sued as an individual and in his official capacity as a state lawmaker, meaning state funds can be used in the settlement.

The lawsuit claimed that Rapert discriminated against some of his constituents and violated their freedom of speech by blocking their access to his social media.

Rapert in a statement Wednesday afternoon maintained that he had not discriminated against his constituents. The agreement allows Rapert to maintain that there was no wrongdoing.

“In my personal opinion they wanted to settle this case because we have successfully defended my position for 5 years and they were ultimately going to lose the case. I was advised that settling the case, while admitting no fault and denying any liability for me and the State of Arkansas, was the best thing to do. The settlement agreement includes a complete release and waiver from the plaintiffs against me and the State of Arkansas. The opportunity to settle this lawsuit without any admission of liability or wrongdoing saves time, money and effort for all concerned” Rapert said.

The settlement comes just weeks after U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker ordered Rapert to turn over information about his accounts to the plaintiffs. 

Rapert, a Republican from Conway, has decried the litigation as an effort from the far left to attack and intimidate him. 

He said Wednesday that he has never blocked anyone because of their viewpoint, but that he does block people for “using profanity, threatening others, or intimidating other people.”

The case had been set to go to trial in October after being filed more than three-and-a-half years ago.

Rapert, who is the founder and leader of the National Association of Christian Lawmakers, has often found himself in public fights and litigation with American Atheists and other similar groups.

He sponsored the bill that led to the placing of a monument of the Ten Commandments on State Capitol grounds in 2017. That effort prompted a federal lawsuit from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Within 24 hours of the monument’s placement, a man driving a Dodge Dart toppled it. Rapert raised private funds to re-construct the monument.

Rapert is not seeking re-election to the state Senate. He ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor earlier this year.

*This story has been updated.

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Hunter Field
Hunter Field

Hunter Field is a veteran Arkansas journalist whose reporting on the state has carried him from military air strips in northwest Arkansas to soybean fields in the Arkansas delta. He spent the better part of the last decade investigating and reporting on Arkansas government and politics. For three years, he covered education policy, medical marijuana and the Arkansas General Assembly as part of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Capitol Bureau. Most recently, he was the Democrat-Gazette's projects editor, leading the newspaper's investigative team. Hunter got his start in journalism covering sports for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. A Memphis native, he enjoys smoking barbecue, kayaking and fishing in his free time.

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