She was an activist before she became an atheist activist, once wanting to defect to the Soviet Union. But in 1960, she became an atheist activist when she sued the Baltimore school district for mandating official prayers and Bible readings, calling it unconstitutional. She and another activist with a similar case, Ed Schempp, sued all the way to the Supreme Court, winning in 1963. She later sued NASA for such things as the Apollo 8 astronauts reading the Bible, though she lost.

She founded the activist group American Atheists in 1963, and she led it for the rest of her life.

In the 1960's and 1970's, she was the best-known atheist in the United States, and she once got called "the most hated woman in America."



  • Your petitioners are Atheists and they define their lifestyle as follows. An Atheists loves himself and his fellow man instead of a god. An Atheist thinks that heaven is something for which we should work for now - here on earth- for all men together to enjoy.
    • MURRAY v. CURLETT, Petition for Relief, 1959
  • An Atheist knows that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An Atheist knows 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.
    • MURRAY v. CURLETT, Petition for Relief, 1959
  • Atheism may be defined as the mental attitude which unreservedly accepts the supremacy of reason and aims at establishing a lifestyle and ethical outlook verifiable by experience and the scientific method, independent of all arbitrary assumptions of authority and creeds.
    • American Atheists charter

Madalyn Murray O'Hair was the founder of American Atheists. "- [1]

Family breakdown[]

When her son William became a Baptist in 1980, she disowned him. "One could call this a postnatal abortion on the part of a mother, I guess; I repudiate him entirely and completely for now and all times ... he is beyond human forgiveness." He returned the sentiments, describing her as a power-hungry, moneygrubbing hedonist.


She suffered a horrible end. On August 27, 1995, she, her son Jon, and her granddaughter Robin suddenly disappeared. Jon and Robin would state that they were OK, but they gave no further details, and their voices seemed strained. After September 28, they stopped talking. That disappearance provoked a lot of speculation, but it turned out that the three were killed by an American Atheists employee, a certain David Roland Waters. Police lack of action was partly responsible for this terrible series of crimes. [2]