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American Atheists
Type Non-profit organization
Founded 1963, Austin, Texas, U.S.
Headquarters Parsippany-Troy Hills, New Jersey
Key people Ed Buckner, President
Industry Education

. Officially, the letter 'A' in the middle stands for America, commonly used to refer to the United States. It would, in theory, change for expansion into other countries. The open-ended vertical orbital signifies that not all is known yet.]]

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]


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 Abington 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.[4] In her opening statement, Madalyn Murray said, in part,"An atheist 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."

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

On August 27, 1995, Madalyn, Jon, and Robin O'Hair disappeared from the organization's former Austin, Texas headquarters. Ellen Johnson, a second-generation atheist, assumed control of American Atheists shortly after the disappearance.[5] It was later revealed that the three were abducted, robbed and murdered by an ex-convict and former American Atheists employee, David Waters.[6][7]

On November 2, 2002, at the Godless Americans March on Washington, Johnson was one of the featured speakers.[8]

In 2002, American Atheists took Wildwood, Florida to court for "displaying religious decorations at City Hall."[9]

In 2004, the group held their 30th annual national convention.[10] 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 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. On September 18, 2008, it was announced that Ed Buckner had been named the new president of the organization.[19]

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]

In late October 2008, incumbent North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole released a controversial television ad attacking one of her opponents, Kay Hagan, for reportedly attending fundraisers held by and taking donations from individuals involved in the Godless Americans PAC. The ad also included a voice saying, "There is no God."[23][24] The Dole campaign said the ad correctly shows who Hagan will associate with in order to raise campaign funds, and on November 1, Dole's husband Bob Dole also defended it, asserting that "it never questions her faith," and that "the issue is why she was there. There's no question about her faith. I think it's [the ad's] fair game."[25]

Hagan, who is a lifelong member of First Presbyterian Church of Greensboro and a former Sunday school teacher,[24] condemned the ad as "fabricated and pathetic."[26] Hagan also filed a lawsuit in Wake County, North Carolina Superior Court accusing Dole of defamation and libel.[27][28]

The ad has met exceptionally strong criticism from the public as well as many local and several national media outlets. CNN's Campbell Brown said about the ad: "[A]mid all the attack ads on the airwaves competing to out-ugly one another, we think we've found a winner."[29] The ad has been described as "ridiculously outrageous,"[30] "indecent,"[31] a "gross misrepresentation,"[32] "worse than dishonest"[33] and "beyond the bounds of acceptable political disagreement,"[33] among other harsh criticism.[34] Another ad issued by the Dole campaign in mid-October 2008 was described by The Fayetteville Observer as "[setting] the low mark in negative political campaigning."[35]

Dole lost by a wider-than-expected margin, taking only 44% of the vote to Hagan's 53% – the widest margin for a Senate race in North Carolina in 30 years, and the largest margin of defeat for an incumbent Senator in the 2008 cycle. It has been speculated that the outcry over the "Godless" ad contributed to Dole's loss.[36]

Court cases

American Atheists have won several important cases involving the separation of church and state, and currently have many ongoing lawsuits.[37]

  • 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.
  • 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")[38]
  • 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]

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 (acting)
Ed Buckner 2008 -

See also


  1. ^ a b "About: American Atheists". American Atheists. 2006. Retrieved on 2007-09-27. 
  2. ^ Homepage of the American Atheist Magazine
  3. ^ Entry for 'The American atheist' at World Cat.
  4. ^ "Court Case: Murray vs. Curlett". American Atheists. 2006. Retrieved on 2007-09-27. 
  5. ^ "Welcome from the President of American Atheists". American Atheists. 2006. Retrieved on 2007-09-27. 
  6. ^ MacCormack, John (2001-02-01). "Dead Giveaway". Dallas Observer. Retrieved on 2007-12-01. 
  7. ^ Manning, Lona (2003-09-29). "The Murder of Madalyn Murray O'Hair: America's Most Hated Woman". Crime Magazine. Retrieved on 2008-11-27. 
  8. ^ "Godless Americans Rally on DC Mall". Godless Americans. 2007. Retrieved on 2007-09-27. 
  9. ^ Kristina Henderson, "Florida atheists challenge angels on lawn of City Hall, Mayor suggests if someone is offended, ignore display", Washington Times, December 5, 2002"
  10. ^ William Booth, "True Non-Believers: In California, One Convention So Over God," Washington Post, April 12, 2004
  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. Retrieved on 2007-09-27. 
  14. ^ Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers, United States Department of Veterans Affairs
  15. ^ a b "Atheists in a town of Believers". ABC News. 2007-05-11. Retrieved on 2007-09-27. 
  16. ^ "Chester Smalkowski, Nadia Smalkowski, American Atheists v. Hardesty Public School District" (PDF). American Atheists. August 2006. Retrieved on 2007-09-27. 
  17. ^ "Atheists go on the political offensive in God-fearing US," The Sunday Telegraph, May 6, 2007
  18. ^ Announcement at NoGod blog
  19. ^ Press Release, September 18, 2008
  20. ^ Salmon, Jacqueline (2007-09-15). "In America, Nonbelievers Find Strength in Numbers". Washington Post. Retrieved on 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 on 2008-11-24. 
  23. ^ Kraushaar, Josh. Hagan's campaign says the ad sought to put inflammatory words in their candidate's mouth; The Dole campaign says the ad correctly shows who Hagan will associate with in order to raise campaign funds.Dole still keeping the faith. The Politico. October 29, 2008.
  24. ^ a b Brown, Campbell. Commentary: Mudslinging to get elected. October 29, 2008.
  25. ^ Bob Dole Defends "Godless" TV Ad. Small Business VoIP. November 1, 2008.
  26. ^ Kay on Dole Ad Attacking Her Christian Faith: A Fabricated, Pathetic Ad. October 30, 2008.
  27. ^ Dole Sued for 'Godless' Attack Ad, ABC News. October 30, 2008.
  28. ^ Dole challenger irate over suggestion she is 'godless'⁠. October 30, 2008.
  29. ^ Brown, Campbell. Commentary: Mudslinging to get elected. October 29, 2008.
  30. ^ Frank, James. Dole 'Godless' ad shows progress, sort of. Chicago Tribune. October 31, 2008.
  31. ^ Dole's desperate turn to Big Lie advertising. The Charlotte Observer. Oct. 30, 2008.
  32. ^ As election nears, negative ads a distraction. Asheville Citizen-Times. October 30, 2008.
  33. ^ a b Editorial: Dole’s attack on Hagan’s faith drives heated campaign lower. Greensboro News & Record. October 30, 2008.
  35. ^ Dole’s new ads set the low mark in negative political campaigning. The Fayetteville Observer. October 15, 2008.
  36. ^ Barbara Barrett (2008-11-05). "N.C. voters deny Dole, elect Hagan to U.S. Senate". Miami Herald. Retrieved on 2008-11-05. 
  37. ^ "American Atheists Lawsuits". American Atheists. 2006. Retrieved on 2007-09-27. 
  38. ^ "Atheists file lawsuit over Day of Faith". Florida Times-Union. 2006-09-02. Retrieved on 2007-10-27. 

External links

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