By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
It was the ultimate betrayal for Madalyn Murray O’Hair.
On Mother’s Day, 1980, her oldest son, William Murray, made an announcement: he had found God, and was abandoning his mother’s atheism for fundamentalist Christianity.
It was made in a letter to the editor in the Baltimore Sun – the paper which, 30 years earlier, had published the letter from Ms. O’Hair that started the debate over school prayer. Eventually, Ms. O’Hair sued the Baltimore school system because young William, then 14, was forced to listen to Bible readings and participate in prayers at his public junior high school.
“I would like to apologize to the people of the City of Baltimore for whatever part I played in the removal of Bible reading and praying from the public schools of that city,” he wrote in the 1980 letter. “I can now see the damage this removal has caused to our nation in the form of loss of faith and moral decline.”
Mr. Murray, 53, heads a conservative Christian political action committee (named Government Is Not God) and a group called the Religious Freedom Foundation. He often lectures and preaches about his conversion experience.
“Unlike my mother, I draw a crowd when I speak,” Mr. Murray said from his office in northern Virginia.
In 1982, Mr. Murray published My Life Without God, a memoir about growing up atheist, in which he savagely attacks his mother, portraying her as a violent, egomaniacal Communist in love with her delusions. It also accuses her of being racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic.
“Our home was so dysfunctional, a storm of chaos,” he said. “Everyone was always fighting.”
One of Mr. Murray’s main goals is, ironically enough, to reverse the school prayer ban he helped bring about.
While he, in some ways, is a mirror image of his mother – establishing multiple organizations, giving speeches, seeking donations – he doesn’t see many similarities between their styles.
One of his most powerful tools in preaching is his own remarkable story: how many other preachers can say they have traveled through as deep a valley of darkness as his mother’s?
“Telling the story helps,” he admits. “A lot of what I do on the evangelistic circuit, I use that story as a central theme.”