American Atheists

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American Atheists
Formation 1963 (1963) Austin, Texas, United States
Purpose/focus Promote atheism and secular humanism; oppose religion in the public sphere
Location Cranford, New Jersey
President David Silverman

American Atheists is an organization in the United States dedicated to defending the civil liberties of atheists and advocating for the complete separation of church and state.[1] It provides speakers for colleges, universities, clubs and the news media. It also publishes books and the monthly American Atheist Magazine.[1][2][3] It is most famous for its founder, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, who disappeared with almost $550,000 of the organization's money and was later found murdered by another employee of the group. [4]

Origin and early legal action

American Atheists was founded in 1963 by Madalyn Murray O'Hair as the Society of Separationists, after the legal cases Abington School District v. Schempp and Murray v. Curlett (1959) which were later consolidated. Both Schempp and Murray challenged mandatory prayer in Public school (government funded)|public schools. Over the years American Atheists has filed numerous lawsuits against public institutions it considers to have breached the wall of separation between church and state. The organization, which has approximately 2,200 members, is headquartered in Cranford, New Jersey.

In 1959, Murray filed a case on behalf of her son, William J. Murray, who was being forced to attend Bible readings in school and was being harassed by teachers and school administrators for refusing to participate.

The consolidated case, usually cited as Abington School District v. Schempp (although arguably Murray v. Curlett became the more famous of the two), was argued before the United States Supreme Court on February 27 and February 28, 1963.[5] In her opening statement, Madalyn Murray said, in part:

"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."

The justices rendered their decision on June 17, 1963. It was in favor of the petitioners, 8-1. They ruled that state-mandated prayer and unison bible readings in public schools were a violation of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was the sole dissenter.

Johnson's leadership

On August 27, 1995, Madalyn, Jon, and Robin O'Hair disappeared from the organization's former Austin, Texas headquarters, after extorting over $550,000 from the organization, which has never been returned. Ellen Johnson, a second-generation atheist, assumed control of American Atheists shortly after the disappearance.[6] It was later revealed that the three were abducted, robbed and murdered by an ex-convict and former American Atheists employee, David Waters.[7][8]

On November 2, 2002, at the Godless Americans March on Washington, Johnson was one of the featured speakers.[9]

In 2002, American Atheists took Wildwood, Florida to court for "displaying religious decorations at City Hall."[10]

In 2004, the group held their 30th annual national convention.[11] The convention attracted several best-selling atheist authors and leaders from several other secular organizations.[11]

In July 2006, Lieutenant General H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said in an interview that, "Agnostics, atheists and bigots suddenly lose all that when their life is on the line." In response Master Sgt. Kathleen Johnson, who founded the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers and served in Iraq, said that was "a denial of our contributions" and "A lot of people manage to serve without having to call on a higher power."[12] American Atheists helped organize a campaign against the "no Atheists in foxholes" claim.[13] The logo of the American Atheists is an allowed "emblem of belief" approved by the US United States Department of Veterans Affairs "for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers".[14]

In May 2007, ABC News featured a report on discrimination the Smalkowski family suffered from government officials in Hardesty, Oklahoma.[15] The report included information about an ongoing lawsuit, which was filed by American Atheists on behalf of the Smalkowski family.[15] The lawsuit alleges the Hardesty Public School District violated Nicole Smalkowski's constitutional rights.[16] Also in May, Joe Zamecki organized a national demonstration against the National Day of Prayer, in contrast to the celebration of prayer by many Christians in America on the day.[17]

An announcement posted on the organization's blog on May 2, 2008 stated that Johnson was leaving the presidency of American Atheists for unspecified reasons. It was later revealed that her removal was not voluntary.[18] Frank Zindler was named acting president, followed by presidents Ed Buckner in September 2008, and Dave Silverman in September 2010.[19]

Silverman's leadership

We need some good information about the accomplishments of Dave Silverman

Godless Americans PAC

In November 2005, the Godless Americans Political Action Committee (GAPAC), an American PAC, was formed to endorse political candidates who support the separation of church and state.[20] Subsequently, atheists have become more outspoken about being an ignored voice in the United States.[21]

The PAC does not want government to associate with religion in any way; it opposes Christmas being a federal holiday or any mention of God on currency or in the Pledge of Allegiance.[22]

Court cases

American Atheists have won several important cases involving the separation of church and state, and currently have many ongoing lawsuits.[23]

  • Murray v. Curlett (1963) Challenged Bible reading and prayer recitation in Maryland public schools.
  • Murray v. United States (1964) To force the Federal Communications Commission to extend the Fairness Doctrine so that Atheists could have equal time with religion on radio and television.
  • Murray v. Nixon (1970) Challenged weekly religious services in the White House.
  • O'Hair v. Paine (1971) Challenged NASA's religious use of the space program to require astronauts to read the Bible during a space flight.
  • O'Hair v. Cooke (1977) Challenged the opening prayer at city council meetings in Austin, Texas.
  • O'Hair v. Blumenthal (1978) Challenged the inclusion of the phrase "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency.
  • O'Hair v. Hill (1978) To have removed from the Texas constitution a provision requiring a belief in God of persons holding offices of public trust.
  • O'Hair v. Andrus (1979) Challenged the use of National Park facilities for the pope to hold a Roman Catholic mass on the Mall in Washington, D.C..
  • O'Hair v. Clements (1980) This case tried to remove the nativity scene displayed in the rotunda of the capitol building in Austin, Texas.

Carter, et al v Broadlawns Medical Center, et al.... Defense of Secular Medicine in 72 year history of Polk County Hospital never hired a chaplain, US Sup Ct, cert den. 1984-1987

  • Steel Crosses on Utah Highways (2005) [1]
  • Society of Separationists vs. Pleasant Grove (2004)
  • American Atheists vs. Starke, Florida.(2005)[2]
  • American Atheists, Inc., and Steve Walker vs. City of Detroit, City of Detroit Downtown Development Authority, and Detroit Economic Growth Corporation.
  • Clyde Baxley, Grace Brown, Edward Byford, Bill Jager, Al Sundquist, James Woolever, Arlen Acharias, and Dorothy Anne Zappa Vs. State of Alaska.
  • American Atheists Inc., Mark W. Butler v. The City of Jacksonville, Florida (2006) (Sued for the city's tax-funded "Faith Day")[24]
  • Chester Smalkowski, Nadia Smalkowski, American Atheists v. Hardesty Public School District, The County Of Texas County, Oklahoma, The Town Of Hardesty, Oklahoma. (Filed August 2006)[3]
  • American Atheists Inc., Lon Bevill, v. City Of Stark, Florida. (2007) [4]
  • American Atheists Inc., Edwin Kagin, v. Kentucky Office of Homeland Security (2009) [5]

Presidents of American Atheists

Name Term of Office
Madalyn Murray O'Hair 1963–1986 (de jure)
1986–1995 (de facto)
Jon Garth Murray 1986–1995 (de jure)
Ellen Johnson 1995–2008
Frank Zindler 2008 (interim)
Ed Buckner 2008–2010
David Silverman 2010–present

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "About: American Atheists". American Atheists. 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-27. 
  2. Homepage of the American Atheist Magazine
  3. Entry for 'The American atheist' at World Cat.[dead link]
  4. McAnally, Amber (2001-04-02). "Waters sentenced for role in O'Hair murder". The Daily Texan. Retrieved 2007-12-01. 
  5. "Court Case: Murray vs. Curlett". American Atheists. 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-27. Template:Archive link
  6. "Welcome from the President of American Atheists". American Atheists. 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-27. Template:Archive link
  7. MacCormack, John (2001-02-01). "Dead Giveaway". Dallas Observer. Retrieved 2007-12-01. 
  8. Manning, Lona (2003-09-29). "The Murder of Madalyn Murray O'Hair: America's Most Hated Woman". Crime Magazine. Archived from the original on 2008-07-31. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  9. "Godless Americans Rally on DC Mall". Godless Americans. 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-27. Template:Archive link
  10. Kristina Henderson, "Florida atheists challenge angels on lawn of City Hall, Mayor suggests if someone is offended, ignore display", Washington Times, December 5, 2002"
  11. 11.0 11.1 William Booth, "True Non-Believers: In California, One Convention So Over God," Washington Post, April 12, 2004
  12. Rebecca Phillips, "Beliefwatch: Foxholes," NewsweekAugust 21, 2006
  13. "NBC, Couric and Today Show Need to Hear From You". American Atheists. 2006-04-05. Retrieved 2007-09-27. Template:Archive link
  14. Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers, United States Department of Veterans Affairs
  15. 15.0 15.1 "Atheists in a town of Believers". ABC News. 2007-05-11. Retrieved 2007-09-27. 
  16. "Chester Smalkowski, Nadia Smalkowski, American Atheists v. Hardesty Public School District" (PDF). American Atheists. August 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-27. Template:Archive link
  17. "Atheists go on the political offensive in God-fearing US," The Sunday Telegraph, May 6, 2007
  18. Announcement at NoGod blog
  19. Dave Silverman, President-elect
  20. Salmon, Jacqueline (2007-09-15). "In America, Nonbelievers Find Strength in Numbers". Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-09-27. 
  21. Sam Harris. "10 myths – and 10 truths – about atheism," Los Angeles Times, December 24, 2006.
  22. "Dole, Hagan finishing pitch to voters". Raleigh News & Observer. 2008-11-02. Retrieved 2008-11-24.  Template:Archive link
  23. "American Atheists Lawsuits". American Atheists. 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-27. Template:Archive link
  24. "Atheists file lawsuit over Day of Faith". Florida Times-Union. 2006-09-02. Retrieved 2007-10-27. 

External links

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