Federal Judge Kristine Baker heard arguments but issued no decision on a request Tuesday for a temporary restraining order against Sen. Jason Rapert to prevent him from blocking critical comments on Twitter and Facebook. He did not appear for the hearing, plaintiffs said.
The American Atheists and individual plaintiffs have challenged the constitutionality of a public official blocking criticism on an open forum.
The Atheists issued this news release this evening:
State Senator Jason Rapert, who blocked his atheist constituents from public forums on social media, failed to appear in court today to defend his unconstitutional actions.
“Three of our plaintiffs drove to Little Rock for this hearing, even though one lives more than three hours away. Senator Rapert could have done taxpayers the courtesy of not needlessly drawing out this lawsuit if he had just walked the few blocks from his office to the courthouse,” said Geoffrey Blackwell, litigation counsel at American Atheists. “He is eager to say he’s only a part-time legislator but apparently does not have the time to spare to make his case in court and under oath.”
Judge Kristine G. Baker of the United States District Court for the Eastern District made no decision on the preliminary injunction American Atheists filed last week against Rapert in order to provide him with additional time to file a written response.
“The Constitution and legal precedent are on our side. The Knight First Amendment Institute v. Trump case and others like it have made the strength of our case abundantly clear,” added Blackwell. “The First Amendment protects online speech just as much as speech in the public square.”
The original complaint was filed on behalf of American Atheists members in Arkansas, including four individual plaintiffs, whom Rapert unconstitutionally blocked from his official Facebook and Twitter accounts after they expressed viewpoints different from his on several issues. The complaint also alleges that Rapert blocked the plaintiffs due to their atheism.
“Rather than blowing through taxpayer dollars to justify blocking atheists who dare to disagree with him, Jason Rapert and snowflakes like him ought to welcome reasonable criticism and respectful dialogue about the important issues facing our nation,” said Nick Fish, President of American Atheists.