American Atheists

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American Atheists
AtheismLogo.png
Formation 1963 (1963) Austin, Texas, U.S.
Purpose/focus Promote atheism and secular humanism; oppose religion in the public sphere
Location Cranford, New Jersey
President David Silverman
Website www.atheists.org

American Atheists is a non-profit 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 quarterly American Atheist Magazine, currently edited by Pamela Whissel.[1][2][3] The organization was founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair.[4]

History[edit]

Origin and early legal action[edit]

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 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. Justice Potter Stewart was the sole dissenter.

Johnson's leadership[edit]

On August 27, 1995, Madalyn, Jon, and Robin O'Hair disappeared from the organization's former Austin, Texas headquarters, along with over $550,000 of the organization's funds. The three were abducted, robbed and murdered by ex-convict and former employee David Waters.[6][7] Ellen Johnson succeeded Madalyn O'Hair after her disappearance.[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. The convention attracted several best-selling atheist authors and leaders from several other secular organizations.[11]

In July 2006, Lt. Gen. 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 Department of Veterans Affairs "for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers".[14]

In May 2007, ABC News featured a report on discrimination and bad treatment 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. The lawsuit alleges the Hardesty Public School District violated Nicole Smalkowski's constitutional rights with bullying behavior, trumped-up charges, and suspension from the school basketball team.[15] [16] Also in May, Joe Zamecki organized a local demonstration at the state capitol building in Austin, Texas, against the National Day of Prayer, in contrast to the official government creation, recognition, and status of the prayer events 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]

Godless Americans PAC[edit]

In November 2005, the Godless Americans Political Committee (GAPAC), an American PAC, was formed by American Atheists 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]

Atheist monument[edit]

In May 2013 the American Atheists settled with Bradford County, Florida, regarding a monument containing the ten commandments. The American Atheists would be allowed to place their own monument onto public property. This marks the first time that such a monument will be placed on public land.[23] The monument is being furnished by American Atheists via a grant from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation.[24]

Billboards[edit]

The American Atheists organization is known for its controversial antireligious billboards, intended by the organization to draw out closeted atheists within religious groups. A billboard on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway displaying the Hebrew Tetragrammaton erected after the celebration of the Jewish holy day of Purim caused outrage from many Jews.[25] The same billboard was rejected by a landowner in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood which drew a reaction from American Atheists' president David Silverman, who stated that this was a case of religious bigotry.[26][27] A satirical billboard depicting the Nativity during the Christmas season was also erected in 2010, causing a reaction from many American Christians, including the construction of a counter-billboard by the Catholic League.[28][29] A billboard in Paterson, New Jersey with the name of Allah in Arabic and the words "You know it’s a myth and you have a choice" drew criticism from local Muslims who "felt it was disrespectful and insulting but they agreed that the American Atheists have the right to put up their billboards where they want."[30]

Court cases[edit]

American Atheists have won several important cases involving the separation of church and state, and currently have many ongoing lawsuits.[31]

  • 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. (1984-1987) Defense of Secular Medicine in 72 year history of Polk County Hospital never hired a chaplain, US Sup Ct, cert den.
  • Steel Crosses on Utah Highways (2005)[dead link][32]
  • Society of Separationists vs. Pleasant Grove (2004)
  • American Atheists vs. Starke, Florida.(2005)[dead link][33]
  • Society of Separationists vs. Pleasant Grove (2004)
  • 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")[34]
  • 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)[dead link][35]
  • American Atheists Inc., Lon Bevill, v. City Of Stark, Florida. (2007)[dead link][36]
  • American Atheists Inc., Edwin Kagin, v. Kentucky Office of Homeland Security (2009)[37]
  • American Atheists Inc., Daniel Cooney, v. Bradford County, Florida (2012)[dead link][38] Filed suit over a display of the Ten Commandments on public property. Went to mediation. Resolved with a monument designed by American Atheists.
  • American Atheists v. Port Authority (2011) Filed suit against the placement of cross-shaped steel beams called the "World Trade Center Cross" at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.[39] On March 28, 2013, United States District Court Judge Deborah Batts granted a motion of judgment in favor of the defendant. American Atheists stated at the time that they would appeal this decision.[40]

Presidents[edit]

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

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "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. Archived from the original on 21 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-27. [dead link]
  6. ^ MacCormack, John (2001-02-01). "Dead Giveaway". Dallas Observer. Archived from the original on 13 January 2008. Retrieved 2007-12-01. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ "Welcome from the President of American Atheists". American Atheists. 2006. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-27. [dead link]
  9. ^ "Godless Americans Rally on DC Mall". Godless Americans. 2007. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-27. [dead 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. ^ 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. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-27. [dead link]
  14. ^ "Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers". National Cemetery Administration. United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved March 21, 2014.
  15. ^ a b "Atheists in a town of Believers". ABC News. 2007-05-11. Archived from the original on 8 October 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-27. 
  16. ^ "Chester Smalkowski, Nadia Smalkowski, American Atheists v. Hardesty Public School District" (PDF). American Atheists. August 2006. Archived from the original on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-27. [dead 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. Archived from the original on 2008-12-06. Retrieved 2008-11-24. 
  23. ^ "Press Release: Atheists to Unveil Florida Courthouse Monument". American Atheists. 29 May 2013. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  24. ^ Maddox, Rachel (6 July 2012). "This Week in God". MSNBC. Retrieved 2 August 2013. 
  25. ^ Patel, Vikram (Mar 8, 2012). "Atheist Billboard Enrages Jewish Community". The Brooklyn Ink. 
  26. ^ Marrapodi, Eric (Mar 7, 2012). "Hebrew atheist billboard gets bumped in New York". CNN. 
  27. ^ Gryboski, Michael (Mar 26, 2012). "Atheist Billboard Not Allowed in Orthodox Jewish Community". The Christian Post. 
  28. ^ Dolan, Laura (Nov 30, 2010). "Dueling billboards face off in Christmas controversy". CNN. 
  29. ^ Slotnik, David (Nov 30, 2010). "Catholics Fire Back in Christmas Billboard Battle". The New York Times. 
  30. ^ Gypsy, Joyful (Mar 7, 2012). "Atheist Billboard Goes Up in NJ Muslim Neighborhood". CNN. 
  31. ^ "American Atheists Lawsuits". American Atheists. 2006. Archived from the original on 2 October 2007. Retrieved 2012-01-02. [dead link]
  32. ^ (dead link). American Atheists.[dead link]
  33. ^ (dead link). American Atheists.[dead link]
  34. ^ "Atheists file lawsuit over Day of Faith". Florida Times-Union. 2006-09-02. Retrieved 2007-10-27. 
  35. ^ (dead link). American Atheists.[dead link]
  36. ^ (dead link). American Atheists.[dead link]
  37. ^ Steitzer, Stephanie (August 26, 2009 ). "Court strikes down reference to God in state law". The Courier-Journal.
  38. ^ (dead link). American Atheists.[dead link]
  39. ^ Kirpalani, Reshma (27 July 2011). "American Atheists Sue Over World Trade Center Cross". ABC News. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  40. ^ Sekulow, Jordan; Clark, Matthew (4 April 2013). "Why the ‘Ground Zero Cross’ should remain". The Washington Post. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 

External links[edit]