Arkansas State Representative Calls Eight-Year-Old Atheist a Fool

The Arkansas legislature just passed a bill called HB 1690 that will enact a freakishly-long moment of silence in the classroom:

A public school in this state shall observe a one (1) minute period of silence at the beginning of school each school day.

A minute. A full damn minute.

That’s not a “moment” of silence. That’s not a “period” of silence. That an “excruciatingly long goddamn minute” of silence.

Go silent and time yourself for that long. Then imagine 30 students forced to waste classroom time doing nothing, trying to keep their mouths shut during that time. It won’t happen despite administrators’ and teachers’ best efforts. It’s a joke. And it’s really just a way to push prayer into the public schools. The bill even says as much (PDF):

I received an email from a concerned mother who wrote to her representatives urging them (ultimately unsuccessfully) to reconsider their vote for the sake of her daughter:

Last year, when she was a first grader, some of her classmates realized that she does not believe in god. She was harassed on the playground by these children to the extent that she came home crying several times. I finally had to consult with her teacher, twice, to put an end to this destructive and painful situation.

The secular purpose of HB1690 is nonexistent. Obviously, the purpose of the law is to encourage prayer or spiritual reflection while at school. At this point I feel compelled to remind the legislature that, as of 2009, Arkansas was ranked 50th in the United States in terms of college graduation rates (Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation Annual Report) and, as of 2009, ranked 7th in the nation in terms of church attendance (Gallup). It is pitifully clear that Arkansas students would be better served by a period of learning in their public schools than by a period of silence.

Should the legislature pass HB1690 into law, I fear that my daughter would once again be harassed by her classmates, this time for not praying with everyone else. Again, my daughter is a good student, studious and respectful of her teachers. House Bill 1690 will make non-Christian children’s school experience difficult and potentially painful, while doing nothing to improve the education of any student. I implore the legislature to abandon this unconstitutional and pointless endeavor, and concern itself with improving education and the economy for all Arkansas.

Good points. And most, if not all, of them will go ignored by politicians who care more about pushing prayer into schools than making sure kids get a good education.

But here’s the appalling bit.

Rep. John Payton wrote back to the mother.

Rep. John Payton

His email explained the intricate and complex inner workings of the state constitution and why he co-sponsored this awful bit of legislation:

That’s it. That’s the whole response. Bible verses to justify his political decision-making. (It’s not surprising either, given that his website includes links to the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Bill of Rights, the Arkansas Constitution, and… The King James Bible.)

Not that it matters, but what do those verses say?

Here’s Romans 1:19-25:

Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened… Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools

… the hell?

And, of course, Psalm 14:1 reads:

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.

So allow me to recap: A concerned mother writes to her state representatives urging them not to vote for legislation that will inevitably lead to the bullying of her atheist child… and one of the representatives writes back to say the eight-year-old girl is a fool with a darkened heart for not believing in God.

It’s not just insensitive. It’s a form of bullying from a high-ranking government official. He doesn’t give a damn what the little girl has to deal with at school because she doesn’t believe in his imaginary god.

The Arkansas legislature should, at the very least, issue a strong rebuke of his actions. This is unacceptable, intolerable behavior from any politician whose job it is to represent all of the people in his district, not just the Christian ones.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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