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story.lead_photo.caption Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, is shown in this file photo. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

An Arkansas state senator said Friday that he should be allowed to block social media users, pointing to what he called “vile” and “profane” responses to a recent boycott he called on a Little Rock brewpub this week.

Sen. Jason Rapert is embroiled in a legal battle with an atheist group and four Arkansans who are alleging the Conway Republican blocked atheists from his Twitter and Facebook pages and violated their First Amendment rights.

Rapert wrote in a Facebook post Friday that he has a right to bar people who use “profanity and intimidation” on social media.

Rapert cited responses he’s gotten after calling for the boycott of Little Rock brewpub Vino’s. A promoter created a concert poster that depicted Rapert biting a baby, drawing a sharp response from the three-term senator.

“Perhaps Federal Judge Kristine Baker will read this and see why we must have the right to ban people from using profanity and intimidation on social media pages,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

The lawsuit underscores a broader debate on whether public officials are legally able to block critics and others from viewing or interacting with their social media pages.

Free-speech advocates behind similar legal challenges across the country at nearly every level of government have argued that blocking followers and commenters amounts to locking them out of a public meeting.

Baker is expected to rule soon on whether to temporarily restore American Atheists Inc.’s access to Rapert’s accounts after taking the issue under advisement late last month.

Rapert has argued that his social media presence is not affiliated with his job as a lawmaker, making commenters subject to his rules on what people can post.

Rapert’s post on Friday did not point to any specific comments on his initial post, which had garnered over 5,000 responses by Friday.

He called for Vino's to be boycotted when a promoter manipulated a photo of the senator so that it appeared to show him biting a baby to promote a May 24 concert featuring New Orleans sludge metal band EyeHateGod.

Rapert told the Democrat-Gazette on Wednesday the poster used his photo without permission and that “it’s offensive to a lot of people.”

He also called on the bar to cancel the show and issue an apology.

EyeHateGod singer Mike IX Williams said in an interview he has no plans to cancel the band's appearance. He said the images used in the poster are protected under the Constitution.

“We’re not going to stand idly while he does these things,” Williams said. “You can’t stop a band from playing or using a picture as parody."

Williams said he sees the benefits of the added attention in setting up a debate on freedom of expression and speech.

The band has performed in Little Rock a handful of times in the recent past, as well as a show in Conway in the ‘90s, he said.

In nearly three decades of performing under the name EyeHateGod, Williams said the band hasn't drawn fire from a lawmaker.

Vino’s event coordinator Christopher Terry said he changed the promotion poster, which appears now as a yellow smiley face.

He said he didn’t mean to harm the reputation of the more than 30-year-old establishment. Terry noted that the added attention to the show saw a boost in ticket sales.

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Comments

  • RBear
    February 8, 2019 at 4:35 p.m.

    Biggest snowflake in the state. Someone go give Rapert a big old hug. He needs it now.

  • Delta2
    February 8, 2019 at 4:43 p.m.

    We need to kick his legislative district out of the state. They're the morons responsible for him.

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    February 8, 2019 at 4:46 p.m.

    Sometimes the only time you can get your point across to a sheep is with a good troll.
    Every good troll lives under a good bridge.
    This Rapert is a bit of a crybaby. Doesnt he and his red dead tide of economic imperialists have something to be doing for the people?
    Are we getting roads i hear? oh so giddy!

  • TuckerMax
    February 8, 2019 at 4:49 p.m.

    I don't think that Sen. Rapert ever understood the concept of "what comes around goes around." He opens his mouth without considering the consequences.

  • susan918crosbygmailcom
    February 8, 2019 at 5:14 p.m.

    I think if you are a public personality and you have a social media presence (regardless of how private it is still public to someone) that is public you should not be allowed to ban anyone for any reason, except maybe a threat on one's life. The police handle those sorts of issues. If Mr Rapert doesn't want to have someone criticize him, then he must not be so critical of others. Past that he is fair game. If he wants to be private he shouldn't be in office.

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    February 8, 2019 at 5:47 p.m.

    So Rapert needs to talk to some of his own people.
    75,000$ a post thats a crazy fine tho.
    { House Bill 1028, titled the "Stop Social Media Censorship Act," was filed Wednesday by Rep. Johnny Rye, a Republican from Trumann. It proposes a minimum civil damage amount of $75,000 for each post that's removed or censored through an algorithm or other means. Under the bill, social media sites are considered a public utility subject to "special government regulation."

    The bill applies to social media sites with at least 75 million users, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. It allows the Arkansas attorney general to bring civil litigation against those companies on behalf of social media users in the state.

    "What's also curious about this bill is that the owner of that -- or the operator of that social media platform is only liable if they live in Arkansas so I'm not aware of any of those platforms or operators living in Arkansas," said John DiPippa, Dean Emeritus and Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Arkansas Little Rock law school.

    Rye, who is an active Facebook user, said Thursday that he authored the bill in response to a "movement going on across our nation" to censor certain content, particularly religious posts, on social media. He could not point to a specific case of online censorship and said no one in his district had raised the issue.

    "We're just trying to make sure that folks have freedom of speech," he said.}KATV

  • whydoyouask
    February 8, 2019 at 8:46 p.m.

    He must think he has some divine power over everyone. What a blowhard!

  • PopMom
    February 8, 2019 at 9:33 p.m.

    RBear,

    You need to run against this jack@ss next time.

  • zzzzipy12
    February 8, 2019 at 9:45 p.m.

    Sen. Rapert....all you’re doing is giving this band some free advertising.

  • Foghorn
    February 8, 2019 at 10:11 p.m.

    I’m guessing Vino’s can’t keep up with the traffic Rapertard is driving their way. Bon appetit!

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