The Most Hated Woman in America
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof… — The Bill of Rights
That phrase. That phrase you keep using. I don’t think that phrase means what you think it means.
Somewhere in our history, the meaning of the First Amendment got flipped around.
The Founding Fathers were looking to differentiate their new country from Great Britain. In the United States, there would be no state religion. Back in Britain, the state religion was the Church of England and the King was its leader. The founders wanted to make it clear that there would be no Church of America with the President as the national holy man.
That was a darn good idea. Can you imagine if the religious leader of our country was the President? Head of Church Calvin Coolidge? Okay, I’ll buy that. Head of Church Bill Clinton? Uh oh.
The Founders were trying to keep the State’s grubby paws out of religion. They were not trying to completely remove God from public life.
Oaths in courtrooms have invoked God from the beginning. Several Chaplains were on the very first Federal payroll. George Washington mentioned God in his Inaugural Address. So has every President since.
Thomas Jefferson was the most religiously progressive of our Founding Fathers. But even Jefferson, a Deist, cited God four times in the Declaration of Independence. The notion that the Founders wanted to protect Americans from ever hearing a prayer in public is comically absurd.
Where the heck did people get the idea that church and state must be completely separate?
Apparently, it was Baltimore, 1963. And Madalyn Murray O’Hair was to thank. Or blame.
Madalyn Murray O’Hair is a great hero and a great villain of atheist history.
On one hand, she bravely went on talk shows and wrote articles in the 60s that educated people about what atheism is and demonstrated that atheists are regular Americans as opposed to Communist infiltrators.
On the other hand, O’Hair made atheists look like jerks with her obnoxious crusades to try to remove “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” from the currency.
In my ideal world, atheists would be seen as normal folks who just happen to know that there is nothing supernatural in the universe. Due to O’Hair, atheists have an unfortunate reputation as malcontents who want to be a thorn in the side of Christians.
O’Hair founded an activist organization called American Atheists in 1963. The Netflix original film “The Most Hated Woman in America” shows how O’Hair (played by Oscar winner Melissa Leo) quietly transformed American Atheists into her own personal cash machine, taking the donated estates of like-minded atheists and squirreling away the money in overseas accounts.
In the 60s, O’Hair ticked off a whole lot of Christians. But her real mistake was that she trusted one shady co-worker with her financial secrets. The film’s drama comes from the 1995 incident where a former office manager of American Atheists kidnapped O’Hair and held the feisty old lady hostage until she paid him $1 million.
“The Most Hated Woman in America” is educational, gripping, and sad.
In the end, Madalyn Murray O’Hair learned the truth the hard way. The truth is that people who believe in God are mistaken – nothing more, nothing less. Christians aren’t robbing anyone of their civil rights. And they aren’t defying the Constitution when they worship in public.
It is telling that Ms. O’Hair was done in not by the worship of God, but by the worship of money.