Madalyn Murray O’Hair

Activist / Political Figure
Date Of Birth:
13 April 1919
Date Of Death:
Place Of Birth:
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Best Known As:
Head of American Atheists

Name at birth: Madalyn Mays

Madalyn Murray O'Hair was such a controversial figure that in 1964 Life magazine called her "the most hated woman in America." Madalyn Murray O'Hair was one of the litigants in the case of Murray vs. Curlett, which led the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 1963 decision, to ban organized prayer in public schools. The decision made Madalyn Murray O'Hair by far the country's most famous atheist. She founded the group American Atheists in 1963 and remained its leading spokesperson for three decades, appearing on TV and radio to promote the separation of church and state (and often caustically ridiculing belief in God). Over time she published books including What On Earth Is an Atheist? (1969), Freedom Under Siege (1974) and An Atheist Epic (1989). O'Hair kept active in atheist affairs until her life ended tragically in 1995. She and two of her adult children vanished after leaving a note saying they would be away temporarily. The trio appeared to have taken with them at least $500,000 in American Atheist funds; one private investigator concluded that they had fled to New Zealand. Eventually suspicion turned to David Roland Waters, an ex-convict who had worked at the American Atheist offices. Police concluded that he and accomplices had kidnapped the O'Hairs, forced them to withdraw the missing funds, and then murdered them. David Waters eventually pled guilty to reduced charges and in 2001 he led police to three bodies buried on a remote Texas ranch, which proved to be Madalyn Murray O'Hair and her children.
Extra Credit:

The children who disappeared with Madalyn Murray O’Hair were Jon Garth Murray, her son, and Robin Murray O’Hair, her granddaughter by another son, William Murray III. Madalyn O’Hair also had adopted Robin Murray, making her both her mother and grandmother… Her son William Murray III converted to Christianity on Mother’s Day in 1980 and became an outspoken evangelist for his new faith. His book My Life Without God was published in 1992… A wild rumor that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is planning to ban religious broadcasting, based on a petition by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, is false. It was not true during her lifetime, and although the rumor continues to circulate in the 21st century, she has not petitioned the FCC from beyond the grave.

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