Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Remembering... Madalyn Murray O'Hair

For attempting to secure the separation of church and state in the US - thanks to the legal action of Murray v. Curlett - Madalyn Murray O'Hair (born on this day in 1919) became known as 'the most hated woman in America'.

PhotobucketAs with many odd stories, it all started in Baltimore... Her son Bill refused to take part in classroom Bible readings and found himself the victim of schoolyard violence because of it. Since that's what Jesus would have done. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and to give one a sense of how the country has changed since 1963 the highest court in the land found 8-1 in her favour, effectively throwing prayer out of public schools.

Following O'Hair's victory she founded the group American Atheists; for years employed as a psychiatric social worker, she also lectured on birth control, and throughout the 1970s and 1980s gave several high profile interviews relating details of threatening mail she'd received, stonings of her house, and even the killings of her children's pets. Since that's what Jesus would have done. Most famously she was the first-ever guest on The Phil Donahue Show in November 1967, when it was still being syndicated out of Dayton, Ohio.

In 1980 William J. Murray - the very same Bill for whom O'Hair had gone to all the trouble - became a born-again Christian, at which time his mother disowned him; at the time she likened it to a 'postnatal abortion'. Her opinion of him is kind and caring compared to his opinion of her; the picture he paints makes her out to be no better than a televangelist, only serving herself instead of pretending to serve some version of God or other.

In August 1995 Madalyn Murray O'Hair, her son Garth, and her son Bill's daughter Robin (whom O'Hair had legally adopted, making Robin her daughter and granddaughter) disappeared; leaving only a note indicating they'd been called away on business, they seemingly vanished. Over the years theories abounded, from kidnapping and murder to embezzlement and exile; if alive, they were expected to be living in New Zealand, based on research done for the American magazine Vanity Fair and published in March 1997. It later turned out that O'Hair, her son, and her granddaughter (as well as an accomplice named Danny Fry) had been murdered in September 1995 by their former employee, David Roland Waters, who himself died of lung cancer in January 2003 while in federal custody.

A play about these events, entitled The Last Days of Madalyn Murray O'Hair in Exile was written by Dave Foley of The Kids in the Hall.

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Timmy B said...

Wow! This is great. So glad I found your blog. Thanks for posting this MMO. You're officially forgiven for posting Celine Dion. XXOO

michael sean morris said...

Glad you enjoyed it!