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.


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