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Biography of Madalyn Murray O'Hair

Name: Madalyn Murray O'Hair
Bith Date: 1919
Death Date: c. 1995
Place of Birth:
Nationality: American
Gender: Female
Occupations: writer, radio commentator
Madalyn Murray O'Hair

Madalyn Murry O'Hair (1919-1995) was a staunch atheist whose court cases brought down rulings from the Supreme Court that prayer is not to be required in public schools.

Madalyn Murray O'Hair called herself "the most hated woman in America." Although School Board of Abbington Township v. Schempp is usually cited as the case through which the Supreme Court ruled that public schools may not require Bible reading, the second decision on that issue was a case filed in 1959 by O'Hair and her son, William J. Murray (Murray v. Curlett). The decision was handed down in 1963. As atheists they protested the Baltimore school board's requirement that the public school day begin with prayer or Bible reading. Murray, as she was named then, attracted notoriety by organizing the American Atheist Center (1959), American Atheists, Inc. (1965), and the Society of Separationists (1965). O'Hair's younger son, Jon Garth Murray, and her granddaughter, Robin Murray O'Hair, helped her run the Center. Her American Atheist Radio series was broadcast on over four thousand radio stations. She had a talent for attracting attention as, for example, when she issued statements that she planned to sue to stop governments from giving tax exemptions to places of public worship and other religious organizations. She also announced she would sue to remove the phrase "In God We Trust" from the currency. After being arrested for attacking Baltimore police, she fled to Hawaii and eventually settled in Austin, Texas, where she and her new husband established the American Atheist Center. During the 1960s the American Atheist Press published the first five of O'Hair's more than twenty-five books on the subject of atheism, including Why I Am an Atheist (1965).

In August of 1995, at the age of 76, O'Hair mysteriously disappeared along with her son Jon and her adopted daughter Robin. According to a December 1995 issue of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the IRS seeks to recover $750,00 in back taxes from her son and daughter. However, the American Atheists news service, which which was started by O'Hair, continually repudiated all rumors of her reason for disappearing. The organization has failed to release any information leading to her discovery. Then in December 1996 more than $600,000 vanished from the American Atheists Inc. organization, which was controlled by O'Hair. While some believe O'Hair went somewhere secret to die to avoid having "religionists" pray over her body, others question whether she took the missing money. Despite investigations, the answer to these questions, as well as O'Hair's whereabouts, remained a mystery.

Further Reading

  • Fort Worth Star Telegram, December 16, 1995, p. A3.
  • Howard, John, "The Most Hated Woman in America: Madalyn Murray,"Life, June 6, 1964, vol. 56, pp. 91-92.
  • New York Times, December 22, 1996, p. 14.
  • Pressley, Sue Anne, "The Voice of Atheism Turns Silent: Madalyn Murray O'Hair's Absence from Texas Center Raises RumorsWashington Post, October 22, 1995, p. A3.

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