Date: Sun, 8 Dec 1996 16:22:06 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 8, 1996 su

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Date: Sun, 8 Dec 1996 16:22:06 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 8, 1996 Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org 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 nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #210 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 12/8/96 http://www.atheists.org e-mail: aanews@atheists.org ftp.atheists.org/pub/ 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 Commissioners Dunn and Cranmer insist that the 1989 ruling is no longer valid, and cite a later ruling they insist permits private religious displays in public venues as part of free speech.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... ed.) **** 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 organization." 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 untouched. * 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 disappearance. * 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 Antonio. What's Ahead? 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, Inc? 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 October. 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 Crater mystery. 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 Murray O'Hairs. 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. -- Editor ** 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 Season" 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 catalogue@atheists.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... AANEWS is a free service from American Atheists, a nationwide movement founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and the total, absolute separation of government and religion. For information about American Atheists, send mail to info@atheists.org, and include your name and postal mailing address. Check out our web site at http://www.atheists.org, or our ftp site at ftp.atheists.org/pub/. You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to aanews and American Atheists. For subscribe/unsubscribe information, send mail to aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks, please) in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER (cg@atheists.org). Internet Representative for American Atheists is Margie Wait, irep@atheists.org. **

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