Arkansas State Representative Who Called Eight-Year-Old Atheist a Fool: ‘I Regret’ the Comment

On Tuesday, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe signed into law a bill that will force all public school students in the state to observe a 60-second-long “moment” of silence.

It’s a horrible decision, it’s 60 seconds longer than any school needs, it accomplishes nothing that can’t already be done at home, and everyone knows it’s just a way to sneak prayer into public schools.

Earlier this week, I posted a message from state Rep. John Payton to a mother concerned about the effect the legislation would have on her atheist daughter:

As I summarized the message then:

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.

It’s been a few days, but Payton has finally responded to the posting. A local paper got him to comment on his message (the article is unfortunately behind a paywall):

Rep. John Payton

Arkansas’ bill gained attention outside of the state Monday when the “Friendly Atheist” blog posted an e-mail from one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. John Payton, R-Wilburn, to a mother who had written several lawmakers with concerns about how the legislation would affect her daughter, who does not believe in God.

“Romans 1:19-25 and Psalm 14:1 address your concerns,” Payton wrote in that e-mail, citing two verses that address disbelief. In the New International Version of the Bible, Psalm 14:1 says: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.”

Payton said Tuesday the e-mail was “a sarcastic and unmeasured reply, and I regret making it. But I think they’re using an 8-year-old girl as a pawn.”

More like he regrets his email going public.

But the eight-year-old girl isn’t a pawn. She’s a student who doesn’t believe in God and, because of this useless drawn-out-”moment” of silence, she’s going to have a hard time dealing with her “loving” Christian classmates.

He doesn’t care, though. The bill passed. His faith wins again. He’s thrilled.

For what it’s worth, I had an email conversation with the girl’s mother last night — she told me Rep. Payton hasn’t apologized to her at all, despite only being an email address away.

Class act, that man.

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.

  • Thegoodman

    “But I think they’re using an 8-year-old girl as a pawn.”

    I just love it when politicians use the word “they”. “They” seem to be responsible for every problem in this country. “They” are always doing things the wrong way. “They” just don’t get it.

    Our country sucks. We are the ones responsible for it.

  • Brian Westley

    And, of course, HE (the politician) really IS using that 8-year-old girl as a pawn…

  • Darren Nolen

    Sounds like Arkansas needs a “60 Seconds for Satan” campaign or “I’m using my 60 seconds to imagine my teacher naked”.

    I suspect I would have fun with this, were I a high school student in Arkansas.

  • ElizabethS

    I hope that the 8 year old refuses to participate in a moment of silence by humming loudly, texting, or studying. Civil disobedience!

  • Jasper

    “But I think they’re using an 8-year-old girl as a pawn.”

    You’re using an entire school system to generate whole armies of theistic pawns.

  • Jasper

    “But I think they’re using an 8-year-old girl as a pawn.”

    You’re using an entire school system to generate whole armies of theistic pawns.

  • Regina Carol Moore

    He does not regret insulting and hurting that girl. He does not regret being a small-minded bible-thumping bigot. He regrets getting called out publicly for something he assumed would remain private.

  • A3Kr0n

    A public official making comments behind a paywall? I’m I to assume from now on I will have to subscribe to every hick newspaper in the country? Baa! Humbug!

  • Wtchgawd

    Bible thumping idiot needs to get with reality.

  • Alisa Penmane

    Come on Hemant! Give it back to them. This one is easy:

    Matthew 5:22 (ESV) But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.


  • Christopher Borum

    I don’t think making noise would be OK. But all the bill says is that students have to “engage in a silent activity.” So surely the student could pull out a copy of Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer and catch up on her reading for a minute. It’s not prayer time. But it’s also not study hall. As far as I can discern, it’s just student free time.

  • Brian P.

    If it were an 8-year-old boy, we know he’d be making farting sounds.

  • Max Bingman

    What is it with prayer in school? Nobody ever complains we don’t have prayer in the dentist’s office. Or prayer at the grocery store. Or the DMV. What is it about learning basic math and science that requires fundies to take time out for the sky bully?

  • Laura D

    He hasn’t apologized because he’s not actually sorry about saying what he did. He regrets it because it’s causing a bit of trouble for him, but he knows that it will blow over eventually. He still believes that atheists are fools and that everyone should be praying during that minute.

  • Holytape

    It’s the cowboy hat. It is nearly a guarantee that if you run across a mid-aged white guy in a cowboy hat, who isn’t an actual cowboy, that man is going to be an ass.

    This man probably pretends that he is a cowboy, a rootin’ tootin’ cowboy from a 60′s tv show. He probably thinks that he’s the living incarnation of Marshal Dillon from gunsmoke, and that all he has to do to be right is wear a white hat and pray to jesus.

    He doesn’t care about other peoples opinions, because if he actually tried to see the world through other peoples eyes, he might glimpse himself. And instead of seeing a picturesque cowboy, he’ll see a sad sagging used car-sales man.

  • more compost

    I was a teacher in a school district that did not allow biology teachers to teach evolution. There was a moment of silence every day, and the christianists, both students and teachers, were unhappy that prayer was being suppressed.

  • Ubi Dubium

    Juggling is usually silent (if you are good at it)!
    When I was a kid, we used group thumb-twiddling as our silent resistance against being ordered to be quiet. It’s silent and within the rules, but it unnerved the adults and made our point.

  • Max Bingman

    But how much Judy Moody can you read in a minute and actually savor? If it’s one minute of free time, it would actually teach bad reading habits. Prayer is just about the only thing one can accomplish in one minute.

  • decathelite

    Wait, so the government is forcing kids to be silent for a moment? Isn’t this the party of not letting the government silence your free speech?

  • John

    But they assume everyone will be using that time to pray, and as we all know prayer is the most important kind of speech.

  • Greg G.

    It’s hard enough to get a classroom to be quiet for a lesson. How many days before students find 60 seconds of silence too long and boring everyday?

  • chicago dyke

    i’m still trying to wrap my mind around that one. a backwater paper having a firewall. yeah, that’s gonna work out well, in the long haul.

  • benanov

    A firewall is pretty much required these days for any company, at least a networking firewall. A paywall…not so much.

  • Max Bingman

    It’s true though! Nothing gives kids the chance to distrupt like a moment of silence!

  • sunburned

    I think it’s because they (theists) believe that school prayer is a great way to subject the impressionable minds of students by continually subjecting them to the influence of the majority. Conformity to their beliefs (the majorities) is paramount.

  • Michael W Busch

    I now consider various creative ways to subvert this ‘moment of silence’. Funny face contest? Charades? ASL lessons?

  • jdm8

    The sheriff often regrets tangling with the Duke boys too.

  • Christopher Borum

    Here’s a link to the legislation, Act 576:

    Students are required not to distract other students during their reflection time. I guess that rules out a thumb war with your neighbor.

    A quick game of Minesweeper might be OK, though, which would be just as productive as any other nonsense one might consider to fill that time. And just as effective as prayer.

  • Pureone

    True story! Gandalf called his Fellowship fools and then had to go to the fire with the Balrog.

  • CanadianNihilist

    Kids can send a lot of text messages to each other in a minute. especially if it every one they know has the same 60 seconds of nothing happening in the morning.

  • TheBlackCat13

    They should care bear stare the teacher.

  • deepak shetty

    Matthew 6:5

  • allein

    If both students are focused on the thumb war, would it still count as distracting the other student?

  • TheBlackCat13

    I think that if one student asks another (using gestures, I guess) during the silent period, that would be distracting. However, if they both agreed to it before the silent period started, then I don’t think it would count.

  • RobertoTheChi

    The ONLY thing he regrets is his obnoxious reply becoming public knowledge.

  • Ron

    So he thinks the bible verses he cited are sarcastic? That is a strange comment