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Jewish World Review Feb. 5, 2001 / 12 Shevat 5761

Don Feder

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Madlyn Murray O'Hair was a victim of her success -- WEST of Austin, Texas, investigators have found what they believe to be the remains of the archbishop of atheism, Madalyn Murray O'Hair. G-d rest her soul.

O'Hair and two family members were abducted and murdered in 1995 in the course of a robbery, apparently by an ex-employee of her American Atheists Inc.

The lady liked to style herself "the most hated woman in America" -- a title she worked hard to secure. Her outbursts were deliberately provocative. Thus, according to O'Hair, the pope should be tried for "crimes against humanity" and the Bible is a fraud concocted "by a bunch of Jews, starved, wandering around the Sinai desert."

O'Hair is dead. The revolution she helped to launch -- to expunge religion from our public life -- is very much with us.

O'Hair was best known for her 1963 Supreme Court case that ended school prayer. Since then, the Court has banned invocations at graduation ceremonies, student-led prayers at football games, display of the Ten Commandments in schools and nativity scenes standing alone in public places -- as well other horrors lately discovered to constitute an establishment of religion.

Most of those who've taken up O'Hair's cause aren't atheists. Many even have a vague belief in G-d. But all are obsessive.

For them, every public manifestation of faith is an attack on the foundations of democratic government. If they can't call it unconstitutional, even under their twisted interpretation of the First Amendment, they complain that it's insensitive or an attack on diversity.

Mention of Jesus in prayers offered at George W. Bush's inauguration were "inappropriate and insensitive," stormed Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

These blessings "excluded tens of millions of Americans who are Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Shintoists, atheists and agnostic," complained attorney and perennial pest Alan Dershowitz. Perhaps Dershowitz would like to end the practice of presidents taking the oath of office on a Bible (up to this point, a Christian bible), which -- by his reasoning -- would also exclude all of the aforementioned.

References to Jesus were included in prayers at the inaugurations of Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and that apostle of inclusion, Bill Clinton. And, miracle of miracles, there wasn't mass alienation among America's non-Christians.

The latest battlefield in this holy war is Bush's initiative for federal support of faith-based programs that alleviate social ills. Last week, the president established a White House office to coordinate funding of these programs.

This has elicited the predictable response from secularist Chicken Littles (the First Amendment is falling). The proposal "violates every premise of the ... establishment clause prohibiting government promotion of religion," huffs Lynn.

Not at all. It would promote drug rehabilitation programs, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and the like, run by religious institutions. Government would aid their charities, not their ministries.

The return on public investment here is far greater than from traditional government programs. But devout secularists would rather see needs go unmet than have federal funds go to religious bodies doing good work.

For the disciples of O'Hair, whatever they call themselves (secularists, civil libertarians), faith is automatically suspect.

Any connection between religion and government -- even something as innocuous as a minister affirming the president's faith at his inauguration or a superintendent of schools voicing approval of a private group distributing Ten Commandments book covers -- becomes an ominous entanglement of church and state.

Uprooting G-d from our culture does society no good. Public manifestations of faith (your faith, my faith, anyone's) are a reminder that there is a higher authority to whom we all are accountable.

O'Hair died horribly, a victim of the world she helped to shape. Without the Deity she fought so hard against, there is no right and wrong, increasingly people are ruled by their passions and humanity is a tragedy waiting to happen.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.


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