tsmithjohnson (tsmithjohnson) wrote,

CSPAN FILM ARCHIVES - You'll Never Believe the Terrifying Way This Famous Atheist Died (2003)

Published on Mar 2, 2016

Madalyn Murray O'Hair (née Mays; April 13, 1919 – September 29, 1995), who also used multiple pseudonyms (e.g. M. Bible), was an American atheist activist, founder of American Atheists, and the organization's president from 1963 to 1986. About the book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/081...

She created the first issues of American Atheist Magazine. One of her sons, Jon Garth Murray, became the nominal president of the organization from 1986 to 1995, but she remained de facto president during these nine years.

O'Hair is best known for the Murray v. Curlett lawsuit, which led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling ending official Bible-reading in American public schools in 1963. This came just one year after the Supreme Court prohibited officially sponsored prayer in schools in Engel v. Vitale. After she founded the American Atheists and won Murray v. Curlett, she achieved attention to the extent that in 1964 Life magazine referred to her as "the most hated woman in America."

In 1995, O'Hair, her son Jon and granddaughter Robin disappeared from Austin, TX and were kidnapped, murdered and mutilated by David Roland Waters, a convicted felon out on parole, and fellow career criminals Gary Karr and Danny Fry. Waters was an employee of the American Atheists from February 1993 to April 1994, first as a typesetter and later as office manager.

Madalyn Mays was born in the Beechview neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,[6] on April 13, 1919, to Lena Christina (Scholle) and John Irwin Mays.[7] She had an older brother, John Irwin "Irv" Jr. As an infant, she was baptized into the church as a Presbyterian.[8] In 1936, she graduated from Rossford High School in Rossford, Ohio.[9]

In 1941, she married John Henry Roths. They separated when they both enlisted for World War II service, he in the United States Marine Corps, she in the Women's Army Corps. In April 1945, while posted to a cryptography position in Italy, she began a relationship with an officer, William J. Murray, Jr., a married Roman Catholic who refused to divorce his wife. Mays divorced Roths, adopted the name Madalyn Murray, and gave birth to a boy whom she named William J. Murray III (nicknamed "Bill").

In 1949, Murray completed a bachelor's degree from Ashland University.[10] In 1952, she received an LL.B. degree from the then unaccredited South Texas College of Law; however, she failed the bar exam and never practiced law.[6] On November 16, 1954, she gave birth to her second son, Jon Garth Murray, fathered by her boyfriend Michael Fiorillo.[11] She and her children traveled by ship to Europe, planning on defecting to the Soviet embassy in Paris and residing in the Soviet Union, due to that nation's promotion of state atheism.[12] However, the USSR denied them entry.[6] Murray and her sons returned to Baltimore, Maryland in 1960.[13]

Murray stated that she worked for 17 years as a psychiatric social worker, and that in 1960 she was a supervisor at the Baltimore public welfare department.[10] She left Maryland in 1963 after allegedly assaulting five Baltimore police officers who tried to retrieve a runaway girl, Bill's girlfriend Susan (who would later be granddaughter Robin's mother).[14] In 1965, she married U.S. Marine and government informant Richard O'Hair.[10][15] Although the marriage resulted in separation, she remained married to him until his death in 1978.

Murray filed a lawsuit against the Baltimore City Public School System in 1960, in which she asserted that it was unconstitutional for her son William to be required to participate in Bible readings at Baltimore public schools. In this litigation, she stated that her son's refusal to partake in the Bible readings had resulted in bullying being directed against him by classmates, and that administrators condoned it.[10]

After consolidation with Abington School District v. Schempp, the lawsuit reached the Supreme Court of the United States in 1963. The Court voted 8–1 in Schempp's favor, which effectively banned mandatory Bible verse recitation at public schools in the United States. Prayer in schools other than Bible-readings had already been ended in 1962 by the Court's ruling in Engel v. Vitale.

O'Hair filed a lawsuit with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in regard to the Apollo 8 Genesis reading.[16] The case was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court for lack of jurisdiction.[17] The effects of the suit were varied: although NASA asked Buzz Aldrin to refrain from quoting the Bible in the Apollo 11 mission, he was allowed to conduct the first Communion service in space.


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