Sunday, May 25, 2014

100 Things I Want to Tell My Children and Grandchildren: #8

I met Madalyn Murray O'Hair

One cold winter night in Austin around 1979, while looking for the office of a psychiatrist (post-divorce therapy), I accidentally wandered into Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s office. You may recall that Madalyn Murray O’Hair founded the American Atheists organization in 1963. This was four years after she had filed suit against her son's school, leading to a Supreme Court decision ending religious activities in public schools. I immediately recognized Mrs. O’Hair when I entered the room as she was the internationally recognized face of Atheism and had been in the news many times. 
Although one might expect to see a cliché dressed in black surrounded by upside down crosses, instead before me, seated at a large desk covered by the detritus common to business, was a nicely dressed white-haired and bespectacled grandmotherly looking woman. Standing beside her was her son Jon, a tall almost handsome man with dark hair who appeared to be in his early 40’s. They were examining and discussing a document Jon was holding in his hand. (Pictured, Jon, Madalyn and granddaughter Robin)

After a couple of beats, when it became obvious they did not hear me enter, I cleared my throat. Startled, Madalyn and Jon looked up at me with what I can only describe as fear. Mrs. O’Hair was constantly receiving death threats. I could have been the loony, religious zealot there to avenge.  Their looks of fear melted into relief when I meekly said, “Can you tell me where Dr. Johnson’s office is?” 

In a tragic twist of fate, some years later Madalyn Murray O’Hair, her son Jon and a granddaughter were victims of a macabre murder. 

Click on “Read More” below if you are interested in this history. 

In 1959, Madalyn Murray O’Hair filed suit on behalf of her son who was forced to attend Bible readings in his school and was the victim of harassment at the hands of school employees after he declined to participate. In her opening statement before the Supreme Court, Ms. O'Hair said:
"Your petitioners are atheists and they define their beliefs as follows. An atheist loves his fellow man instead of god. An atheist believes that heaven is something for which we should work now – here on earth for all men together to enjoy. An atheist believes that he can get no help through prayer but that he must find in himself the inner conviction and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue it, and enjoy it. An atheist believes that only in a knowledge of himself and a knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that will help to a life of fulfillment. He seeks to know himself and his fellow man rather than to know a god. An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanquished, war eliminated. He wants man to understand and love man. He wants an ethical way of life. He believes that we cannot rely on a god or channel action into prayer nor hope for an end of troubles in a hereafter. He believes that we are our brother's keepers and are keepers of our own lives; that we are responsible persons and the job is here and the time is now."
This landmark case held for the first time that state-mandated prayer and bible readings in public schools were a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.

On August 27, 1995, O'Hair, her son Jon and granddaughter Robin suddenly disappeared. When the police, responding to missing person calls, entered O'Hair's home, breakfast dishes were sitting on the table, her diabetes medication was on the kitchen counter, and her dogs had been left behind without a caregiver.
In January 2001, David Roland Waters (pictured) called the police and told them the O'Hairs were buried on a ranch in south Texas. When the sight was excavated they discovered that the bodies were so mutilated identification had to be made through dental records.

Waters, a former American Atheists employee who had stolen $54,000 from them in 1995, was apparently enraged at O'Hair.  Waters' girlfriend later testified that he fantasized about torturing O'Hair. The police concluded that Waters and his accomplices, Gary Paul Karr and Danny Fry, kidnapped the O'Hairs, and before murdering and dismembering them, forced them to withdraw large amounts of money from the American Atheists bank accounts.

Waters and Karr also murdered accomplice Danny Fry. Karr was sentenced to life in prison and Waters was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

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