Date: Sun, 8 Dec 1996 16:22:06 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 8, 1996 su
Date: Sun, 8 Dec 1996 16:22:06 -0500
Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 8, 1996
from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS
subject: AANEWS for December 8, 1996
A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
#210 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 12/8/96
In This Issue...
* Pittsburgh Threatened With Creche -- Again
* Paper Says $$$ Missing In Missing O'Hairs Case
* From The Editor -- Priorities
* "Christmas" -- Are We Having Fun yet?
* About This List...
CHURCH GROUPS RESURRECT PITTSBURGH CRECHE DISPLAY BATTLE
Just days after a Roman Catholic religious group announced that it was
ending its efforts to erect a nativity display at the Allegheny County
Courthouse in Pennsylvania, five Protestant cult churches have banded
together, and have received permission from officials to build the creche.
That move, announced Friday, re-ignites public debate over the Christmas
exhibit and the possibility that the County will once again find itself in
court over a violation of First Amendment state-church separation.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Commissioner Larry Dunn -- who
stood for election on a promise to have religious displays in a public square
in front of the county building -- announced that "he had given his blessing
to a group of ministers...A spokesman for Commissioner Bob Cranmer said he,
too, would support the request."
In 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the display amounted to an
endorsement of religion by government. Following an outcry from
separationists and civil liberties groups including the ACLU, the Catholic
Holy Name Society announced last week that it would comply with the First
Amendment and relocate its creche on private land.
Commissioners Dunn and Cranmer insist that the 1989 ruling is no longer
valid, and cite a later ruling they insist permits private religious displays
in public venues as part of free speech. But a local ACLU representative,
Roslyn Litman said that the 1989 case dealt with a true "public square" which
had a "history for serving as a forum for ideas."
The Post-Gazette article notes: "The courtyard at the courthouse does not
meet the same standards, said Litman..."
(Thanks again to Gary Gahagan for tracking this story...
PAPER SAYS FUNDS MISSING IN O'HAIR DISAPPEARANCE
This morning's edition of the San Antonio Express-News reports in a front
page article by John MacCormack that $625,000 vanished from accounts of two
atheist organizations prior to the disappearance of the Murray O'Hair family
in the fall of 1995. The article quotes a tax statement filing known as a
Form which says: "The $12,000 shown as a decrease in net assets or fund
balance represents the value of the United Secularists of America's assets
believed to be in the possession of Joan Murray, former secretary...The
whereabouts of Jon Murray and these assets has not been known since
September, 1995 and is not known to the organization at this time."
Another $15,500 is reported missing from an account held in the name of
American Atheists Inc. The Express-News says that this sum, "also attributed
to Jon Murray, was detailed in a separate IRS filing for 1995 by that
The disclosures add "tantalizing new hints to the theory that the Murray
O'Hairs might be hiding in New Zealand," says the article. Over $250,000 was
held in interest-bearing New Zealand Government Stock (bonds.) In addition,
the paper quotes an ex-employee of the American Atheist Center as well as a
former Board member, both of whom discuss interests and visits by the O'Hairs
to that country, as well as a link with an official of the Free Thinkers
Society based in Auckland, New Zealand.
Another Murray Connection
Several weeks ago, AANEWS informed readers that William J. Murray,
estranged son of Madalyn Murray O'Hair, and filed a "request to locate" with
the Austin Police Department in order to get "closure" and determine the fate
of his missing relatives. William Murray, a plaintiff in the famous MURRAY
v. CURLETT case which helped to end mandatory prayer and Bible recitation in
public schools, later became a professional evangelist working closely with
fundamentalist religious groups, and now promotes efforts to pass a prayer
amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Today's Express-News piece notes: "An
Austin police detective said little progress has been made since a missing
persons report filed this fall by Bill Murray, Madalyn's estranged son. 'The
case is still open. That's it,' Detective Stephen Baker said."
For the record, AANEWS notes that Murray did not file a "missing person's
report." According to the Austin Police, such a report must be filed by a
relative, and pertains to evidence of foul play. The "request to locate"
simply means that if found, William Murray would be informed if family
members were alive, but not given their location.
Foul Play To "Take The Money And Run"
MacCormick begins his article asking: "Did America's most famous atheist
take the money and run?" Former Board Member Arnold Via told the Express-News
that "If there are large sums of money missing from corporate funds, they
(the O'Hairs) are criminals...Let's face it. If they misled us, abandoned us
and stole money, they are crooks."
That sentiment was apparently supported by a former employee, David
Travis, who said that he saw envelopes with bank statements from New Zealand,
and charged that the O'Hairs "had been lying to the employees, the membership
and probably everyone else. They were pleading poverty..."
But current American Atheists GHQ Director Orin "Spike" Tyson offered what
MacCormick described as a "cryptic and ominous observation."
"It's a very odd thing. It would appear to me they are probably not
alive. Six hundred thousand dollars is a lot of reason to kill someone."
The paper also noted that "Since her (Madalyn O'Hair's) disappearance,
speculation has raged, including such theories that she left the public eye
to die an isolated death beyond the reach of the Christians she hated."
Much Theory, Little Fact
The report of the missing $650,000 does not answer the question of where
the O'Hairs could be, why they left their offices under such secretive
circumstances on September 28, 1995, and a number of other nagging questions.
* At the time of the disappearance and well into the summer of 1996, new
officers of American Atheists continued to discover bank accounts in the name
of the organization or its affiliated entities, which appear to have remained
* The bulk of the organization's assets -- and (as far as is known) the
personal assets of the Murray O'Hair's -- remained in the form of tangible
real estate which was, in effect, abandoned.
* Personal accounts -- for instance, a bank account into which veteran's
pension money for Madalyn O'Hair is deposited -- are, reportedly, intact and
have not been touched since their disappearance. The only personal asset
which appears to have been sold was an automobile belonging to Jon Murray,
which was advertised for sale in a San Antonio, Texas, at the time of the
* At least one other person -- and perhaps two individuals -- appears to
have been "operating" with the O'Hair's at the time of their disappearance.
A person identifying himself as "Mark Anderson" (spelling is not certain)
answered Mar. personal cellular phone, presumably while they were in San
This morning's revelations are based, in large part, on tax filings
ordered by American Atheists officials and an accounting of known assets and
liabilities of the organizations.
article says that "...the admissions of huge losses by two groups
directly contradict repeated claims by atheist officials this past summer
that all corporate assets were intact after the Murray O'Hairs disappeared in
August, 1995 (sic)."
This portion of the story, though, may be based on a misunderstanding of
the facts. Indeed, when the organization was restarted in the months
following the disappearance, Director Spike Tyson discovered that the known
operating accounts were in tact.
Tyson told aanews that "We kept finding different accounts for the various
affiliated groups over a period of months."
But what about the $15,000 from an account known as American Atheists,
One theory points to the fact that there were still funds left in the
account, an item that would seem to not make sense if some one were engaged
in all-out embezzlement. Some have suggested that the money was taken out in
order to be used for the upcoming Pope Picket scheduled for the following
Tyson also told aanews this afternoon that based on phone calls and
personal conversations, "people are pretty well divided down the middle over
what they think might have happened. About half seem to think the O'Hairs
may have split with funds, and others say they're dead."
A PERSONAL STATEMENT FROM THE EDITOR
So who's "right"? Did the Murray O'Hair family fall victim to foul play?
Are they stretched out on a beach far away enjoying a lifestyle built on
pilfered funds? Are they in hiding for some other purpose?
I don't know -- and, I suspect, neither does just about anyone else,
including the inevitable chorus of people who feel compelled to "take sides"
and build the case of the missing Murray O'Hairs into a modern-day Judge
From the beginning, this writer has called for patience, reserve, and a
healthy skepticism of any claims being made about this matter. There are
painfully few facts, and the ones known (at least to me) don't support most
of the scenarios which have been advanced.
* The O'Hairs are dead, victims of foul play! ~~
Maybe. But there was no evidence of struggle, no "bloody glove," nothing
of the sort that would suggest that the O'Hairs were forcibly subdued in
either their house or the American Atheists offices in Austin, Texas.
* They took the money and split! ~~
Maybe. And this theory might well appeal to those folks who disliked the
O'Hairs for personal or ideological reasons. More than one of us felt a
tongue-lashing now and then, and over the years Madalyn O'Hair and her family
cut a wide berth, with plenty of supporters and enemies.
But if you're absconding with money, why not take it all? Why not sell
the American Atheists offices, and your own house? Why leave thousands of
dollars in bank accounts behind?
* They're in hiding! ~~
Perhaps. And personally, there is an aspect of this which leads me to
suggest that a "hiding scenario" may be the most sensible explanation for the
few facts that do exist in this case. But there remains the question of
motivation. Was Madalyn O'Hair (or perhaps another family member) seriously
ill? She had often spoken of her fear that Christians would exhume her body,
or make disingenuous claims of a sudden "death bed" conversion to religion.
Or, there could be the very real problem of what is simply known as
"burnout." Every year, over 50,000 or so people in the United States
literally disappear, and for a startling variety of reasons. Others make
cataclysmic changes in their lives switching jobs, moving, marrying,
divorcing. After spending what was probably too many years working too hard
for a difficult cause, why shouldn't the O'Hairs be victims of the same
stress, frustration and "burnout" that everyone from college kids to soccer
moms and business executives feel?
Given the facts as known today, I have to say that no, I don't know what
has become of the Murray O'Hairs. Nor do I have an excuse or explanation to
the question of missing funds. At this stage, only the O'Hairs (if they are
alive) can answer to any of this.
But I DO know that we unfortunately live in a celebrity-villain driven
culture. Ideas quickly become subsumed in 'personality' issues, and one's
message is often distorted in the giddy speculation of who one happens to be
instead, instead of what is being said. The new American Atheists President,
Ellen Johnson, quickly noted this after the O'Hairs disappeared, she received
a torrent of phone calls from news organizations and reporters. They weren't
inquiring about our press release about the threat from the Religious
Equality Amendment, or the statement which called for a "holy war" on
Atheists and secularism issued by the head of the Mormon Church, or our
protest over guru Sri Chinmoy's plaque being erected at the Statue of
Liberty, or our criticism about the shoddy attempts to rehabilitate the
Shroud of Turin. They didn't want our opinion on voucher schemes, or a copy
of our statement to the House Judiciary Committee on the latest
prayer-in-public schools proposal.
They wanted to know about what we "thought might have happened" to the
This writer, anyway, stands by the enlightened principle that a person is
innocent until proven guilty. Missing money needs to be explained, and that
after three decades of steady work on behalf of Atheism and state-church
separation, Madalyn O'Hair and her family have certainly earned that right.
Many of those who either "worship" the O'Hairs, or damn them, have
contributed far, far less to the cause of reason and the First Amendment.
And we may never live to see this story resolved -- who knows?
That fact makes it imperative that all of us involved in "re-inventing"
and resurrecting American Atheists learn from both the successes and the
mistakes of the Murray O'Hairs. It demands acknowledging the contributions
made by Madalyn O'Hair and her family, and working to move beyond the things
they accomplished. It requires avoiding the inevitable errors they made, and
trying to improve on the many innovations they brought to the cause of
organized Atheism and separationism.
The Murray O'Hair family may never be found; if they are alive, perhaps
they relish a newfound anonymity, a break from the frenetic pace of political
and social activism. If that is the case, all of us -- especially friends --
must ask that nagging questions raised by their disappearance, and today's
newspaper article in the San Antonio Express, be resolved. If they are
victims of foul play, it remains questionable whether government authorities
would be honest and forthcoming in probing the case.
Every new generation of leadership has its own unique "style," and
American Atheists is no exception. Ironically, (and perhaps because of the
publicity generated by the O'Hairs), membership in the organization appears
to be at an all-time high. Mr. Tyson and his staff are grinding out record
numbers of newsletters, magazines, and filling a record number of orders. As
far as we know, we have never had such an influx of new members into the
organization as we have in the last year.
Those of you who are members have already recognized some of the changes.
There will be more. But we should always remember that American Atheist
leadership today is simply building on a base which was already there, the
result of years of hard work, dedication and -- well, just plain refusal to
give up -- on the part of Madalyn O'Hair and her family.
So back to the original question -- what about the O'Hair's? We encourage
readers to maintain an open mind, a health skepticism, and a realization that
very few facts are known about this case. Certainly, after decades of work,
the O'Hair family (if alive) has won the right to fair and balanced
consideration, at least from the Atheist community.
And what about the rest of us? The O'Hairs may be gone, but WE still are
confronted with plenty of issues deserving our attention. In my "to be
written" tray next to the computer, there's a stack of articles. Religious
groups in Kentucky are trying to "reshape" the welfare system by taking it
over. Scientology has bankrupted the old Cult Awareness Network in a stream
of costly lawsuits, and even purchased the name and the group's files. The
Supreme Court will be ruling on the infamous Communications Decency Act, and
when the 105th Congress convenes next January, we're certain to see another
attempt to ban so-called "partial birth abortions," and possibly institute
some kind of prayer in the public schools.
There's still work to do, with or without the O'Hairs.
TIRED OF HAVING A ''MERRY'' CHRISTMAS YET?
It's not just talk of foul play with the Murray O'Hairs. Or even an
amendment which would effectively scrap the Bill of Rights. Being an Atheist
around this time of year can be difficult, especially with those sappy parade
floats and posters everywhere declaring that "Jesus is the Reason for the
But, to paraphrase an angel or two, "Hark!"
American Atheist Press offers a great line of Winter Solstice greeting
cards with a variety of messages and themes. You might want to send these to
friends, relatives, even some stuck-up elected officials!
We've also got hundreds of interesting books and other products, including
seasonal favorites like Frank Zindler's "The UFO of Bethlehem."
You still have time to receive a catalogue and get your order in, just in
time for "Christmas." So what are waiting for? A kick from a reindeer?
Just contact firstname.lastname@example.org and include your name and postal mailing
address. We'll rush you the complete catalogue, along with a handy ordering
form you can either mail back or fax for quicker service.
How's that for ho, ho, ho!?
About This List...
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E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank