The Life of Madalyn Murray O’Hair

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June 17, 2017 by thewashingteenian

By: Marinia Powell, Staff Reporter and Senior Staff Photographer

Madalyn Murray O’Hair was fundamentally an Atheist. In 1960, she sued the Baltimore Public School system for morning prayer recitations in schools, which eventually went to the Supreme Court.

Her fight against religion in school brought her national notoriety which she used to found the American Atheists in 1963. Since Atheism lacks a place of worship and is technically not a religion, there was previously no real connection between people of that belief and a real leader, so Madalyn took that upon herself. She became the face of Atheism.

She became the bane of all religion practiced in public or by the government, even going after the Apollo space mission demanding the astronauts not be allowed to read the Bible since they were government employees. But she didn’t stop there. Throughout her life thereafter, Madalyn aggressively went after all shows of faith, practiced in public or not, saying at one time, “Religion has caused more misery to all of mankind in every stage of human history than any single other idea.”


Image via Wikimedia Commons.

But becoming the outspoken figurehead of Atheism also came with her becoming one of the most loathed faces in America, or as Life magazine termed her, “The Most Hated Woman in America.” She received daily death threats and hate mail, articles were dedicated to why she was a threat to society, and her kids were probably bullied a lot in school. But Madalyn basked in hatred, even fed off of it. She chaired the American Atheists for 26 years but remained a guiding force behind it when her younger son took over until her disappearance.

In 1995 Madalyn, her son Jon Garth Murray, and granddaughter-turned-adopted daughter Robin Murray were all kidnapped at gunpoint by her office manager David Roland Waters and subsequently killed. Their bodies were not found until five years later when Waters was convicted and confessed the location, 90 miles west of the American Atheists headquarters.

In 2016, Madalyn’s story was revived for Netflix, but sadly just as a true-crime series. Her older son, whom she originally went to court for and who later became a Baptist pastor, and Frank Zindler, who was with the organization at the time, say it isn’t completely accurate either, for different reasons. For one, her son says he did actually call when three of his family members, including his daughter Robin whom he left behind after he converted, went missing. Frank says there was no personal bank account in New Zealand where Madalyn put money she was skimming off American Atheists.

It’s not as easy to know who Madalyn was as it is to know what she thought. Madalyn was probably incapable of saying anything but exactly what she thought, exactly when she thought it. However, there are some shadier aspects of her life. For instance, when she first disappeared the common thought was that she had taken money from the American Atheists, abandoning her organization in favor of the tropics. Her surviving son also stated she fostered a too close relation with her other son, John Garth, which prevented him from having a relationship with another woman.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair wasn’t exactly easy to understand, or like at times. But she was herself in all her glory, unfiltered, all throughout her life.


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