ARKANSAS, USA — Arkansas State Senator Jason Rapert has settled a lawsuit filed against him by American Atheists, Inc. for blocking some of their members from his official social media accounts.
American Atheists filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Arkansas in January 2019, claiming that because Rapert had blocked the organization on his verified state representative account, he took away their constitutional rights.
Rapert had argued that he had the right under the First Amendment to block those he said were personally attacking and bullying him.
As the plaintiffs, American Atheists claimed Rapert had violated the U.S. and Arkansas Constitutions along with the Arkansas Religious Freedom Act by banning them from interacting with his account.
American Atheists claimed Sen. Rapert:
- Discriminated based on viewpoint (violation of U.S. Constitution and Arkansas Constitution)
- Violated their right to petition the government (U.S. Constitution)
- Violated their right to the free exercise of religion (U.S. Constitution)
- Violated their right to equal protection of the laws under the U.S. Constitution
- Violated the Arkansas Religious Freedom Restoration Act
Rapert moved to dismiss the lawsuit days later on Jan. 14, 2019, which was denied by the Eastern District of Arkansas Judge Kristine Baker in September of that year.
For nearly three years, the lawsuit continued within the Eastern District, until Judge Baker ruled against Rapert's denials to turn over information to the court.
American Atheists, the plaintiffs, requested all of his "non-privileged" communications about the lawsuit and information pertaining to his social media presence in March of 2021.
According to Judge Baker's order, Rapert did not comply with the requests, stating that in each instance, the information requested by the plaintiffs was "not relevant," "overly broad" and "unduly burdensome." In the case of turning over conversations about the lawsuit and his social media accounts, he stated that it was private information that would subject him to harassment.
However, the judge ruled that Rapert could have filed motions or pursued other legal matters that could preserve the information but didn't. "While the court understands and appreciates Rapert's concerns, those concerns do not absolve him from his duty to disclose discoverable information."
Over three years of litigation, mostly due to the back and forth from Rapert refusing to turn over the information requested by plaintiffs, lawyers for American Atheists, Inc. filed a motion for Rapert to compel and included a request for attorney fees to be paid that were incurred during his discovery violations.
On July 26, Judge Baker ordered the state senator to pay American Atheists' attorney's fees.
The "fees are not to be awarded as a punishment," the judge ruled, but to compensate for the amount of money the plaintiff had to pay during the time Rapert refused to comply with the court's stipulations.
On Aug. 17, 2022, American Atheists, Inc. announced it had reached a settlement with Rapert, who agreed to pay the organization over $16,000 and unblock four Facebook accounts and one Twitter account.
In a statement released via Rapert's Twitter account in response to the settlement, he stated that both parties "agreed to settle admitting no fault, no liability & no wrongdoing" on his part.
Sen. Rapert further stated that although he has decided to unblock the parties in the lawsuit, he believes that his social media pages belong to him and can be moderated accordingly.
According to the Associated Press, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, whose office represented Rapert, said Rapert was sued in his official capacity as a state official and did not comment further.
You can read more about each party's response to the settlement via the following links:
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