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The Bible and Suicide

Madalyn Murray O'Hair
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Madalyn Murray O'Hair

Born: April 13, 1919
Disappeared: August 28, 1995
Died: possibly sometime in September, 1995
Body Discovered: January 28, 2001

Madalyn Murray O'Hair was once described by Time magazine as the most hated woman in America. She was certainly the most famous atheist in America during the latter half of the 20th century; she never shunned the spotlight and she never avoided an opportunity to create controversy and discussion. Insofar as she was hated, it was not simply because of her atheism as it was for her vocal arguments on behalf of a number of positions which infuriated Americans - mostly when it came to the role of religion in American public life.

Married young to a Pittsburgh steelworker, O'Hair and her husband were split up by World War II when both enlisted. He became a Marine and went to the Pacific while she joined the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (WAACs) and by 1943 whe was a lieutenant serving with the cryptographic staff at the Supreme Allied Headquarters in North Africa, France, and Italy.

While in Italy, she met an officer with the Eighth Army Corps, William Murray, Jr., and conceived a son with him. Murray was also married at the time and, as a Catholic, was against the idea of divorcing in order to marry Madalyn. She gave birth to another son in 1954, Jon Garth Murray. He was also conceived outside of marriage, but this time to a different father. Life in 1950s America was very difficult for a divorced mother of two children, each born to different fatherrs, and these conditions probably helped shape her anti-establishment and anti-religious views. It was not long, however, before she began to relish her role as critic, dissenter, and outsider.

O'Hair & School Prayer
Madalyn Murray O'Hair made headlines when she objected to her eldest son, William, participating in Bible readings in the Baltimore public schools. Her case was later combined with another from Pennsylvania, Abbington School District v. Schempp, in which the Supreme Court invalidated such practices in public schools across the country. Although people commonly claim that Murray, who later founded the American Atheists, was the women who got prayer kicked out of public schools (and she was willing to take the credit), it should be clear that even had she never existed, the Schempp case still would have come to the Court and Bible readings would still have been found unconstitutional.

O'Hair used her public noteriety to push for the rights and interests of atheists in both law and society. After the Supreme Court decision, she founded American Atheists - one of the better known atheist organizations in the United States. Throughout the 1970s she publicly debated religious leaders on a variety of issues and she also produced an atheist radio program in which she criticized religion and theism. She also filed numerous lawsuits on many issues where she felt that religion had been given too much liberty in violation of the Constitution; she was criticized for filing suits which she had no chance of winning, but she argued that such cases had important symbolic value, no matter how likely it was that her suit would be dismissed eventually.

Madalyn Murray O'Hair not only raised the ire of religious believers, but also of many atheists. It was not uncommonf for her to kick out of American Atheists members who did not conform to her vision of what atheists should be like. In an address to the 1982 convention of American Atheists she criticized a wide variety of atheist "types" as being unacceptable - the only one left was a "Maslovian type" which was based upon the ideas of psychologist Abraham Maslow and which was characterized by self-actualization. In 1992, O'Hair dissolved the nation-wide network of state chapters of American Atheists, bringing the entire organization under centralized control. Although many plausible reasons were offered for this move, many believed it much more likely that it was done in order to eliminate infighting and regular challenges to O'Hair's authority.

O'Hair's Disappearance and Death
Although many will remember Madalyn Murray O'Hair for her atheist activism, many others will remember the strange circumstances surrounding her death and disappearance. She, her son Jon Garth, and Robin Murray-O'Hair (daughter of Willaim Murray) all disappeared on August 28, 1995. At first their disappearance was a curiosity. When it was discovered that more than $600,000 was missing from the assets of American Atheists, the atheist organization created by Madalyn Murray O'Hair, and that a horde of gold coins was missing as well, many speculated that the three had embezzeled the money and took off. This was a very popular view among relgious people who never liked atheists and especially disliked atheist leaders like O'Hair.

Eventually, however, it was discovered that the three had been kidnapped, forced to provide access to funds and coins, killed, dismembered, and buried. The mail culprit was David Waters, a career criminal who had been convicted for numerous violent crimes but who had nevertheless been employed by American Atheists as a typesetter and office manager. He, with two accomplices, abducted and killed the O'Hairs.

Once the truth had been discovered and their remains recovered, the three were reburied by William Murray in an unmarked grave in an undisclosed cemetary near Austin, Texas. He has refused to reveal the location of their graves to American Atheists or any other atheist group, despite their concerted efforts to the contrary.

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Related Resources:

What are Ethics and Morality?
Ethics is the formal study of moral standards and conduct. For this reason, the study of ethics is also often called "moral philosophy." What is good? What is evil? How should I behave - and why? How should I balance my needs against the needs of others?

What is Philosophy?
What is philosophy? Is there any point in studying philosophy, or is it a useless subject? What are the different branches of philosophy - what's the difference between aestheitcs and ethics? What's the difference between metaphysics and epistemology?

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