Madalyn Murray O'Hair:

Atheist, Anarchist
The Freedom Writer, Jan/Feb 1996

Madalyn Murray O'Hair, 76, perhaps the world's best-known atheist, mysteriously disappeared last August. Rumors abound. In poor health in recent years, some speculate O'Hair died. Others theorize she was kidnapped by radical Christians; some think she relocated to New Zealand or Australia. O'Hair's conceivable death brought to mind Freedom Writer's March 1989 interview with the outspoken activist. Here are some excerpts.

FW Were you always an atheist?

O'HAIR Oh no, not at all. I was born into and reared in the Presbyterian faith. My father was a Presbyterian and it used to be the obligation, the social obligation, of women to take their husband's religion, no matter what they [the women] were reared in. So my mother was a Lutheran, and the moment she married my father she started attending a Presbyterian church. She attended that church for 50 years. My brother and myself were both brought up in the Presbyterian church.

FW At some point you must have changed your mind.

O'HAIR I sure did!

FW What happened?

O'HAIR I used to skip grades in school, and I'd been reading since I was three. Just generally speaking, my family's pretty bright, including my parents. One weekend my father refused to take me to the library. I used to go down and load up on library books, and when he wouldn't take me to the library, I was forced to read the Bible from cover to cover. I was either in the fifth or sixth grade. Now, you know damn well I didn't understand everything that I was reading, but I understood enough that I thought it was pretty horrible. I thought that it was violent, that God was pretty mean, and that the visitations he made caused troubles of all kinds on the chosen people. Then I started to read some of that to my father and mother. I would pick out stuff that I thought was pretty horrible. My mother would just look at me and say, "Oh, that's not in my Bible!"

FW Is your organization tax-exempt?

O'HAIR Oh, we are now, yes. We just finished winning tax-exemption for every one of our organizations. So, every single one is tax-exempt. Now let me tell you about that because you probably have the same thing. Are you tax-exempt?

FW Yes, we are.

O'HAIR Good, good. There are four kinds of tax exemptions. Health, education, welfare, and religion. With health, education, and welfare, you have to file Form 990. With religion, they file nothing. Nobody can ask them anything. That's a tax-exemption we think they shouldn't have. They should be accountable to the citizens of the United States for exactly what they do with that tax-exempt money. Also, I think that they're obligated to do something. Such as, there are millions of homeless, and millions of churches that are used one day a week. There isn't a reason in the world that they can't let people come in and sleep on the pews. There isn't a reason in the world that they can't feed them. Most of the churches have kitchens. And, they should do this for love of Jesus Christ, not asking for a government grant, or a handout. If they really want to say that they are going to do it to the "least of these," then let them do it.

FW Do you support religious freedom?

O'HAIR Oh, absolutely! I feel that everyone has a right to be insane. And that they can do this any place at all. If they want religious schools, build them! My only problem with that is, do not ask for the land to be tax-free. Do not ask for a government grant to build them. Do not ask for money for teacher's salaries, or more books, or anything else. Just go ahead and do your thing, and do it yourself. Just exactly the same as if you were a nudist. Somebody doesn't get a tax break for being a Mason, or whatever they're interested in. And I feel that religions can have administrative bodies, social services, hospitals, anything at all, as long as they pay for it totally themselves, and make certain that the people who are involved with them are aware that they are basing their premises on religious ideology.

FW On the issue of censorship of pornography and rock music, do you see that as a religious issue, too?

O'HAIR Yes, I do. Incidentally, I don't like rock music. I never have liked it. I have never understood it, and I can't hear the lyrics. I think that most people can't hear them either. I'm still stuck with Chopin and Beethoven and Bach, and all those old ones. The whole point is, I feel that everyone who wants to say anything, do anything, should be able to say anything or do anything, within the limits of not hurting another person. And I don't see how rock music hurts anybody, or I don't see that pornography hurts anybody.

Incidentally, one of the things that I learned very quickly when I first met Larry Flynt -- he wanted to interview me for his magazine, and I went and met him several times and developed a friendship with him -- one has to pay for pornography. It is not distributed free anyplace in the United States. There has to be a deliberate act of someone going in and purchasing it. So, I think that's a hell of a lot different than distributing leaflets or pamphlets on the street. It's merchandise. If someone wants to get involved in that, it's their business.

The relationships that people have -- that are sexual, psychological, emotional -- these relationships are not open to supervision by parents, schools, churches, or government. Nobody has any right to intervene at all in any kind of relationship like that.

FW What do you see as your greatest accomplishments?

O'HAIR Oh, one of the things that I am most proud of is that people can say, "I am an atheist," in the United States today, without being called a Communist atheist, or an atheist Communist. I separated those two words. I think that's probably the best thing that I did. The other thing is, of course, that we are developing something that we call "modern atheism," or "American atheism," which is entirely different from the materialism of the Greek philosophers. What we are interested in is moving ou t, in order to see that there is a more viable life cycle for all people, and that the human condition can be ameliorated somewhat by human beings working in concert to do something. We must do something about the pollution. We must do something about the waste. We have to do something about the greed. We must stop war. And we're not going to do any of those things as long as we feel the solution is to go to church on Sunday, or funnel our energy into prayer or religious solutions. Everybody has to get mixed up in the problems, to try to solve them.

FW How would you like to be remembered?

O'HAIR I told my kids I just want three words on my tombstone, if I have one. I'll probably be cremated. One is "woman." I'm very comfortable in that role. I've loved being a woman, I've loved being a mother, I've loved being a grandmother. I want three words: Woman, Atheist, Anarchist. That's me.

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Tom Leykis:

Atheism on the Radio
by Kevin Horn

Tom Leykis, nationally syndicated talk-show host, has openly discussed his atheism on the radio. He is also a moderate, who belongs to no political party, and enjoys bashing all sides when they do something stupid. I find both stances amazing. The only agenda Tom tries to push is his own reason and logic. Add that to the fact that he is funny and very entertaining, and you've got what I consider the best talk show on the radio.

Leykis broadcasts live from Los Angeles from 3:00 P.M. to 7:00 P.M. Pacific time. For those interested in trying to get Atheist issues on the air, you can send e-mail to him at, or call him at: 1-800-5-800-TOM. Warning: Tom is not interested in promoting an atheist agenda. He is interested in one thing only: ratings. If you call, you must be "riveting" to get on the air.

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Human Sacrifice
Has Been Legalized
by Greg Irwin

Laws in these United States have the effect of allowing human sacrifice in the name of religious liberty. These laws have overturned the child protection laws which used to be in place and allow parents to kill their own children if they believe that their deity requires it.

The methods of sacrifice may be agonizing even torturous. The helpless victims may pass through long months of suffering and endure endless pain while being sacrificed. All of this while child protection authorities, by law, must do nothing.

Although we generally think only of the Christian Science Church in this regard, these laws also apply to any nut group that rejects medicine and chooses to rely on wishful thinking and mumbo jumbo, instead. No one can know the true number of children who have been sacrificed to the Christian god by parents who denied medical aid, but one is too many. In a final perversion of justice, in many states, the same people, i.e., Christian Science practitioners, who assist in the sacrificial killing are entitled to payment from the state's Medicaid funds.

A typical wording in a state law is, "Parents who rely solely on spiritual treatment in accordance with the beliefs of a recognized church are not considered to have failed to provide adequate care." Of course, we all know that "spiritual treatment" really means "no treatment" and that is true even when the child has an entirely treatable disease or disorder. In previous times, before antibiotics, before vaccines, before science, a reliance on magic made no difference in the outcome. It didn't help, but it didn't hurt, either. But today, how can a failure to provide modern medical treatment for a sick child be anything but a "failure to provide adequate care"?

A correspondent of ours writes, "When I was 14, I nearly died of a burst appendix. There was accompanying peritonitis and internal gangrene. Even with the most modern medical care, death was but a moment away. I was in extreme pain and recovery was slow. I cannot imagine the callousness and stupidity of those who would force a child to suffer through this, especially since it is becoming unnecessary. I cannot imagine a parent wanting to serve a monster god who would demand it.

"If an Atheist were to refuse to provide insulin for a diabetic child, it would be a crime. If a Christian Scientist does the same it is an expression of faith.

"I wish that every faith healer's and every Christian Science practitioner's appendix would burst right now, today. Let them have the godly joy of refusing treatment but leave our children alone. Let our children grow up in a safe home with loving parents who provide the care which is needed."

-- signed by Greg Irwin

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Egregious Nonsense On School Prayer
by Bob Winslow
The Oklahoma Observer, Page 15

August 10, 1998

"One Jonesboro parent, groping for an explanation for the school shootings this week, said, 'If they hadn't taken prayer out of school, this never would have happened.' He was onto something." Thus pontificated the ultra-conservative Washington Times.

Though the irony escapes the Times' editors, the 11- and 13-year-old children arrested for the five Jonesboro murders March 25 were active church members.

The notion that vocal group prayer in school -- voluntary individual silent prayer never having been banned -- would or could prevent antisocial behavior is egregious nonsense. When the Supreme Court ruled against state-sponsored group prayer in public schools in the early 1960s, only about half of the schools in the country had the practice and there was no difference in crime and delinquency rates between communities that had formal school prayer and those that did not.

Moreover, the only study ever reported on the subject, a comparison of public and parochial high school seniors, found that the students who had been exposed to daily religious devotions and instruction were more likely than their public school counterparts to have used alcohol or drugs and to have shoplifted (Kirsten Goldberg, "Catholic Educators Surprised by Data on Student Values," Education Week 29 April 1987).

Beginning in 1933 the Nazi government in Germany required daily prayer in all public and private schools. And the whole world knows how much effect that had on the Wehrmacht and SS troops who overran and occupied most of Europe.

The Washington Times was simply blowing smoke around to bolster the Religious Right's drive to get Congress to pass the Istook school prayer-voucher amendment to the Constitution. We don't know why these two boys did what they did, but it was not because they were denied an opportunity to pray.

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