The Passion of Madalyn Murray

“The Passion of Madalyn Murray”
by Robert Anton Wilson

from Ralph Ginzburg’s fact:
 Jan-Feb 1965
Volume 2, Issue 1

Her brother is unemployed, her son has had a mental collapse, and she herself faces a lifetime in jail – but America’s No. 1 atheist is still “riding at a gallop, high in heart”

For 4 years, Baltimore endured an atheist in its midst. Not just any atheist, mind you, but the most famous atheist in America: Madalyn Murray, the woman who filed a lawsuit and got the Supreme Court to kick religious prayers out of the public schools. Ever’ since the lawsuit brought her to their attention, the good people of Baltimore strove to get rid of Madalyn Murray, and in June, 1964, they finally did it. As a result of the methods they used, Madalyn is now in exile in Hawaii, her arm is partly paralyzed, her hair is almost white at 44, her organization -the Freethought Society of America-has been wrested away from her, her brother is un­employed, and her son is under a psychiatrist’s care. The worst victim of all, however, has been the U.S. Constitution, which has emerged from the affair even more battered than the Murray family.

Those people traditionally concerned about civil liberties have not protested much about the Madalyn Murray case, probably be-cause they find it simply incredible. When I visited Hawaii and spoke to Madalyn Murrays present-day lawyer, Hyman Greenstein, he frankly told me that he himself did not completely believe Madalyn’s story when he first agreed to represent her. She was a human being in trouble,” he said. “That was obvious. But I was sure she was exaggerating and dramatizing what had happened. I just didn’t believe these things could happen in the United States. Then I went to Baltimore and investigated the facts. Believe me, Jack Ruby didn’t face worse prejudgment in Dallas than Madalyn Murray has faced in Baltimore.”

In fact, to understand the Madalyn Murray story one must first understand the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland, and nothing in America prepares a person for such an understanding, Imagine Spain, in the days of the Inquisition, transferred within our borders. Maryland is named for the Virgin Mary; it was founded by Catholics; it is still predominantly Catholic; 17% of all property in the State be-longs to the Catholic Church, which pays no taxes on it. Maryland is the only state in the Union that demands a religious qualification for judges; the only state that demands a religious qualification for jurors; the only state that de­mands a religious qualification for witnesses. Madalyn Murray literally could not testify in her own behalf in any trial there, nor could any other atheist testify for her. In addition, the legal code has not been substantially revised since 1789, and it perpetuates many old English common-law punishments that have been abolished elsewhere. Particularly crucial to Madalyn Murray, who is under indictment on eight counts of assault against policemen (she charges that the police actually assaulted her), the Maryland laws do not fix a maximum sentence for the crime of assault. The judge can make the prison term as long as he wishes-and Baltimore judges are not noted for their partiality to Madalyn Murray.

If Maryland’s laws are Medieval, its folk culture, with its persistent violence, deserves to be called Fascist. It is part of the South: The stink of hatred permeates the air like smog in Los Angeles and filth in New York. Negro homes have been bombed in the past year. Talk to a cabdriver in Baltimore about the “color” problem and hate sprays from him like odor from a skunk-in 3 minutes he will improvise 90% of the tortures it took de Sade years to dream up, with “Martin Luther Coon as the principal victim and Earl Warren next in line. A celebrated Iynching in Baltimore not so long ago ended with the hanged man’s toes and ears being hacked off by a member of the mob. The ears and toes are probably on somebody’s mantelpiece today, and the owner is probably proud of them. Bet on it. He shows them to guests: “Got these babies fighting Communists.”

*   *   *

In this little pocket of 13th-century life, Madalyn Murray stood up and declared herself an atheist, an anarchist-socialist, and an integrationist. Here she started, and fought to a Supreme Court victory, a suit to end prayers in the public schools. Here she took into her home, and into her Freethought Society of America, Mae Mallory, a bitter Negro militant wanted by the authorities in North Carolina, And here, Madalyn Murray, after winning her school-prayer case, started a lawsuit to force the United States government to tax church prop­erty the same as any other property.

In the March-April 1964 issue of Fact, I wrote the first profile of Madalyn Murray to appear in a major magazine. In it l described some typical reactions to Madalyn’s activities:

Day after day the letters pour in…. “You should be shot!” “Why don’t you go peddle your slop in Russia?” “YOU WICKID ANAMAL” “I will KILL you!”…

The day before Christmas a rock was thrown through the window, causing $67 worth of damage… [The phone calls are] a barrage of insult, obscenitythreat, and psychotic rambling…

…her elder son, Bill, now 17, [has been] beaten up by gangs of Catholic adolescents more than 100 times…, her younger son Garth, who is 9, [is] beginning to have nightmares because of frequent assaults by other. boys.

…Sifting in her office interviewing her I heard a school bus go by. Every child stuck his head out of the window and shouted, “Commie, Commie, Commie!”

My article appeared on the newsstands on April 1, 1964. A few weeks later, Madalyn Murray wrote to me to say that reporters from Timeand Life were coming in squads and battalions to interview her, carrying my article and asking their questions from it. (Both Time and Life later swiped my title, “The Most Hated Woman in America.”) “They’re all trying to find errors in your Fact piece,” Madalyn told me. “They’re sore as hell about Fact’s expose of errors in Time and they want to get even.” They never found any errors, although once they thought they had. A Mr. Michael McManus, of Time’s Washington office, called Madalyn and an­nounced that she had lied to me about her Army career. You weren’t on Eisenhower’s staff,” he crowed, “you never Ieft North Carolina.” Madalyn’s maiden name was Madalyn Mays, and Time had gotten ahold of the WAC record of a different Madalyn Mays.

The Time article appeared on May 15, and Madalyn wrote to tell me that now Esquire and the Saturday Evening Post were doing stories on her. Baltimore, more and more, found itself spotlighted as the nation’s atheism capital, and Baltimore did not like it. Madalyn’s cat was strangled. A series of letters, postmarked Baltimore, became progressively uglier:

“You had better read this carefully! It may be the last one you read. Somebody is going to put a bullet through your fat ass, you scum, you masculine lesbian bitch!”

“You will be killed before too long. Or maybe your pretty little baby boy. The queer looking bastard. You are a bitch and your son is a bastard.”

“Slut! Slut! Slut! Bitch slut from the devil!”

Madalyn files all such letters in a folder which she someday hopes to publish under the title, Letters from Christians. But the growingmurderousness of the correspondence, as na­tional publicity about her increased, began to get under her skin, and she bought Tsar, a large German shepherd, and trained him to attack on command.

Meanwhile, somebody in the Baltimore Post Office began systematically underlining the first three letters in her name, so that all of her mail reached her insultingly addressed, “Madalyn Murray.” MadaIyn complained to the Baltimore Postmaster and was told that an investigation had failed to unearth the culprit, although her mail continued to arrive disfigured. Then, suddenly, all mail stopped. Madalyn complained to the Baltimore Postmaster and to the Postmaster General in Washington, with no immediate results. Then an unidentified Commu­nist called and told her that her mail was being delivered to the Communist Party of Maryland. The C.P. leaders, having a long-standing grudge against MadaIyn (“All Communists have a long-standing grudge against all anarchists,” Madalyn says), had not bothered to notify her that they were receiving her mail. Madalyn again complained to the Postmaster General and soon began to receive her mail anew. Not long after, the “Madalyn Murray” underlinings were resumed.

The good people of Baltimore devised other harassments. The garbage cans at Madalyn’s office were dumped onto the ground every day, before they could be collected. Her son Bill received traffic tickets almost every time he went out driving. Somebody entered the back yard of her home at night, was attacked by Tsar, and rammed a piece of wood down the dog’s throat. Coming into her office one morning, she found two officials of the City zoning board going through her correspondence, and when she tried to have them arrested for tres­passing, no judge would issue a warrant.

Each of Madalyn’s efforts to cope with these harassments brought on further difficulties. To handle the garbage problem, she boned up on Baltimore law and found that a business firm could use its own incinerator if the incinerator was a specific legal size. She bought an incinerator that met the requirements, but the first time she used it several fire trucks rushed to the scene with sirens blaring and extinguished the blaze. When MadaIyn quoted the law to the fire chief, he informed her that in his judgment the incinerator was unsafe.

Madalyn picked the most flagrant of Bill Murray’s traffic indictments and fought it in court. Although two witnesses, one a policeman’s son, testified that Bill had not committed the violation (driving through a red light), the court found him guilty.

*   *   *

Madalyn Murray continued to fight back. Her lawyer at that time, Leonard Kerpelman, found in his Iaw books that a citizen unable to obtain redress from a judge could appeal directly to a grand jury. Madalyn persuaded him to make this Iast attempt to register charges against the zoning-board inspectors who had been caught in her office. A few hours later, Madalyn re­ceived a desperate phone call. Kerpelman was in jail. He had knocked on the office door of the grand jury and was immediately arrested for contempt of court. Rushed before Judge T. Bar-ton Harrington, Kerpelman was quickly con­victed and fined $25. Having only $24.78 in his pockets, Kerpelman was taken to jail. MadaIyn paid his fine and got him out, but he was shaken by the experience and began to show increasing disinclination to represent her further. He also was worried that Madalyn’s enemies might use the contempt conviction to try to have him dis­barred. To head this off, he appealed his case. Strangely, he was represented by William L. Marbury and Marvin Braiterman. Marbury is the attorney for the Roman Catholic Church in Madalyn’s “tax the churches suit, and Braiterman is the attorney for the Episcopal Church in the same suit. They appeared before Judge Michael J. Manley and persuaded him to drop the case against Kerpelman. This was the first, and only, case ever won in the City of Baltimore by anyone associated with Madalyn Murray. Kerpelman subsequently broke with Madalyn and is now publicly working against her.

*   *   *

The next act of the melodrama began, like the Fall of Troy, with a runaway girl. The fair Helen in this case was I7-year-old Susan Abramowitz, who met Bill Murray in high school. Bespectacled, shy, and intellectual, Susan soon became emotionally involved with Madalyn’s elder son. What happened after that is subject to dispute. Susan’s parents, Leonard and Jeanne Abramowitz, charge that the Murrays “induced Susan to abandon her Jewish faith” and to move into the Murray household. Susan claims that her parents beat her cruelly for associating with Bill, broke her glasses, cracked her teeth, and blackened her eyes, and that she sought refuge in the Murray home only after her own parents threw her out of theirs. The Baltimore papers printed all of the charges made by Mr. and Mrs. Abramowitz, but not a single word of the countercharges by Susan and the Murrays. When Madalyn complained, an editor told her that her charges were libelous and that he could be sued for printing them. (Actually, the charges against Mr. and Mrs. Abramowitz are legally protected against libel action, being contained in a brief filed by Susan Abramowitz, William Murray, and Madalyn Murray in the Criminal Court of Baltimore, under Article 26, Sections 91-101 of the Baltimore Code. Among other complaints of cruelty, this document charges, on Susan’s testimony, that her father struck her on one occasion so hard that he fractured a bone in his own hand.)

The Abramowitzes obtained an order from Judge James Cullen on June 2 placing Susan in custody of an aunt and uncle. Susan immediately fled to New York City and took refuge with a friend. Two weeks later, she and Bill re-turned to Maryland and were secretly married. Then they returned to the Murray household on June 20. A neighbor recognized Susan and called the police. “You’d think it was Dillinger they were after,” Madalyn says. “A whole fleet of squad cars came racing to our house.” In their haste, the police forgot to obtain a warrant for Susan’s arrest, so the Murrays refused to open the door. The police tore open a screen door and rushed in.

What happened next is again a matter of dispute. The Murrays charge that they were brutally beaten by the police. According to the police version, Madalyn Murray single-handedly assaulted eight policemen. (The next day, only five policemen claimed to have been assaulted by her, but two days later three additional policemen pressed charges.) Madalyns mother, Leddie Mays, an elderly woman suffering from arthritis, is accused of assaulting still another policeman. Mrs. Mays admits touching a policeman. “He had Bill on the ground and kept clubbing him, so I grabbed his shoulders from behind and yelled at him to stop. `You’re killing the boy!’ I said.” For her crime, 73-year-old Mrs. Mays was promptly knocked unconscious by the club of another guardian of the peace.

When I asked the plump 44-year-old Mad­alyn how in the world she managed to assault eight armed policemen, she grinned. “You didn’t know I was such an Amazon. did you?” More seriously, she said, “I bet every hood in the country will migrate to Baltimore when word gets out that eight of their policemen can be assaulted by one overweight, middle-aged housewife.”

Madalyn was taken to University Hospital for injuries, her mother was taken to Union Memorial Hospital, and Bill was taken to jail, where he claims the police beat him all night long while one of them read the Bible aloud to him. “We’ll make a Christian out of you yet, you cock-sucker,” he quotes one of his tormentors as saying.

The next day the Murrays were released, and they carefully hid a tape-recording that Bill had made of the tussle, in which Sgt. Charles Kelly is clearly heard admitting that the police had no search warrant. The matter of the war-rant apparently began worrying the authorities at this point, for State Attorney W. J. O’Donnell suddenly called a press conference to explain that the police do not need to have a warrant in their possession when entering a house if they have reason to believe a warrant has been issued.

This legal theory appears to be new. I called the Attorney General’s office in Washington to inquire about this and was told, “I never heard of such a doctrine.” When I asked if I could quote this, my informant hastily added that the Attorney General’s office does not officially utter opinions on the law for the press and suggested that I call the American Civil Liberties Union. At the A.C.L.U., Mr. Alan Reitman, a lawyer, stated flatly, “There is no such doctrine in American law. If a search is to be made, the police must have a warrant.” Madalyn’s Hawaiian lawyer, Hyman Greenstein, says bluntly, “O’Donnells doctrine wouldn’t last as long as a snowball in hell in any court outside Mary-land. Even in Maryland, it wouldn’t stand up against anybody but Madalyn Murray.”

Madalyn and her family held.a conference. Considering her 100% record of defeat in all Baltimore courts, they decided that if she re­mained in Baltimore she would undoubtedly be convicted on assault charges. They recalled that the prison sentence for assault, in Maryland, can be as high as the judge chooses to make it. That night the Murrays, with Bill’s new wife, Susan, drove to Washington and took a plane to Hawaii. Baltimore was at last rid of its atheist.

The good people of Baltimore were not satisfied yet. Leo Murphy, a Baltimore artist who had done a drawing for the cover of Madalyn’s magazine, American Atheist, began to receive phone calls from people threatening to kill him or to throw acid in his face and blind him. An Ida D. Collins wrote gleefully to the Baltimore Sun, “Madalyn Murray took the wrong route when she left us this week. Instead of Hawaii, she should have taken a `slow boat to China’ and do us all a favor and stay there.” The insurance company cancelled the insurance on her house and, although the mortgage payments were up-to-date and all thanks to the experts from site, the bank began court action to foreclose because the house no longer was insured. And in Hawaii, Madalyn watched her son Bill begin to slip into a mental breakdown.

Bill had taken his share of punishment during the previous 4 years with Spartan solidarity. After his night in the Baltimore jail, however, he suddenly broke into screams before Judge Joseph G. Finnerty and shouted, “You Christian, you Catholic, I won’t go back to that cell and be worked over again!” In Hawaii, Bill began to sit for long periods in his room, utterly silent. Occasionally, he would come out of his stupor and attack his mother verbally, saying she had ruined his life by getting him mixed up in the school-prayers case. Then he locked him-self in his room and refused to talk to anyone for nearly a week. He is now under the care of psychiatrist Linus Pauling Jr. He has come out of his silent depression, but retains a violent hatred of his mother, whom he blames for all his troubles.

*   *   *

Back in Baltimore, Madalyn was tried in absentia for contempt of court and sentenced to I year in jail. The Baltimore authorities also got busy and created a new law that fifed a minimum 20-year sentence for each count of assault against a policeman. Madalyn Murray, the Baltimore Sunannounced, now faces at least 160 years’ imprisonment if she ever returns to Baltimore. I asked Madalyn’s lawyer, Hyman Greenstein, about this: “Doesn’t the Constitution prohibit such ex post facto punishments?” “Yes,” he said, “but the Constitution also prohibits trials in absentia, and Baltimore has already done that to her.” He added: “Assault, you know, is a misdemeanor. If they get away with it, she’ll be the first American ever to serve life for eight misdemeanors.”

Meanwhile, a gang of people moved into Madalyn’s business office, announced that they were the “Freethought Society of America,” and tried to use the bank account Madalyn kept under the society’s name. Madalyn’s fight against the coup d’etat has followed the traditional pattern in Baltimore courts: She has lost every single hearing.

Heading the group occupying Madalyn’s office is Lemoin Cree, a 26-year-old biologist who works at Fort Detrick, where the U.S. Army carries on research in the creation of arti­ficial bubonic-plague epidemics and other meth­ods of biological warfare. Mr. Cree and his associates insist they were appointed by the “board of directors” of the Freethought Society. Madalyn Murray insists there is no board of directors of the Freethought Society, and showed me the by-laws to prove it.

Madalyn is convinced that Cree and his group are “Catholic agents.” A friend of mine, who knows the atheist movement the way Clark Kent knows the inside of the phone booth at the Daily Planet, laughed at this. “Madalyn is breaking under the strain,” he said. “The Church has given her such a hard time, she’s be-ginning to see priests everywhere.” According to this informant, Lemoin Cree and his associates are actually atheists, but atheists whose politics are Right-wing and who are embittered by the fact that Madalyn Murray, the only atheist to achieve national publicity, is conspicuously Left-wing.

Since the office contained several hundred dollars worth of furniture belonging, not to the “Freethought Society of America,” but to Madalyn’s mother, Leddie Mays, Madalyn sold this furniture to her friend, Mae Mallory, who thereupon tried to obtain a robbery warrant against the group in the office. A Baltimore judge ruled that the bill of sale was not legal. The bill of sale had been witnessed by a notary public in Hawaii, and the judge declared that, under Maryland law, it had to have been witnessed by a clerk of a Hawaiian court, not by a notary public. Lawyer Joseph Wase, representing Mae Mallory in this matter, insists there is no such Maryland law. According to Miss Mallory, however, the judge involved had said of Madalyn, “That atheist doesn’t have any rights in this State.”

Yes, all this is happening in Baltimore, Maryland, in the United States of America, in the Year of Our Lord 1965.

*   *   *

Going from Baltimore to Honolulu must be Iike ascending from the nethermost circle of hell to the pinnacle of paradise. In every way, Hawaii is the antithesis of Baltimore. It is the most cosmopolitan of American states, and the most tolerant. Racial harmony is so good that even the year-long parade of tourists-with its high percentage of Legionnaires, werewolves, warlocks, Storm Troopers, monsters, and miscellaneous Ugly Americans-does not under-mine it.

Shortly after her well-publicized arrival in Hawaii, Madalyn telephoned lawyer Greenstein and asked to see him. Hyman Greenstein is a legend throughout Hawaii. Everybody knows that he was the model for Lieutenant Greenwald in Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny, that he is a fanatical devotee of sports-car racing, that he loves impossible” cases, and that during World War II he won so many “impossible” court-martials that Admiral Halsey personally inter­vened to have him transferred out of the Pacific area. In one notorious court-martial, the presi­dent of the court lost his head and called Green-stein “a son of a bitch.” Greenstein calmly turned to the court clerk and asked, “Did you get that down?” Court was immediately adjourned. It reconvened a few minutes later to dismiss the charges against Greenstein’s clients.

A short, soft-spoken man, Greenstein a ways wears green bow ties and his office is decorated in shades of green. Madalyn warned me, “The green is some kind of personal symbol to him. He is not amused when somebody says, `Oh, are you Irish, Mr. Greenstein?'”

When it became known that Madalyn had called for an appointment, Greenstein’s staff was dismayed. His secretary told the lawyer, “Everybody wants to know if you’re going to take that awful woman’s case.” Greenstein called the entire staff into his office and left the door open. “That door is always open to people in trouble, whatever their beliefs,” he said. “Does anybody want to quit?” Nobody did.

Mr. Greenstein has prepared a blockbuster of a brief against Madalyn’s extradition. He charges that “No court in the State of Maryland is legally constituted” because of that State’s religious qualifications for judges, juries, and witnesses, and that, therefore, “The entire judicial system of Maryland is in violation of and repugnant to the Constitution of the United States.” He further argues that Maryland’s failure to prescribe maximum penalties for assault is “barbaric, outmoded, and repugnant to the Constitutional guarantees against cruel and unusual punishment.”

Not only has Madalyn found a conscientious and capable lawyer in Hawaii, but she has also come upon some truly good Christians. Eighteen Hawaiian clergymen, including a Catholic priest, signed a petition urging Governor John A. Burns not to approve the extradition of Madalyn back to “religious persecution in Maryland.” In fact, as soon as she landed on the island she was offered help-by a church. The Rev. Gene Bridges, of the Unitarian Church, called her on the phone to ask if she had found a home yet. When he learned that she hadn’t, he invited her whole family to spend the night in the backroom of his church. Mr. Bridges immediately thereafter started calling the board of directors of his church for approval. The board has 15 members. After calling 8 and receiving 7 approvals, he invited the Murrays to stay until they found a home. They remained in the church for 2 weeks.

“Madalyn has mellowed a lot, due to the Unitarian Church,” one Unitarian told me. Madalyn now attends the Unitarian services every Sunday and sends her son Garth, 10, to the church’s Sunday School. I attended services with Madalyn at Mr. Bridges’s church one Sunday. It began with some recorded music by Dizzy Gillespie, then Mr. Bridges read selections from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift From the Sea and E. E. Cummings’s I: 6 non-lectures. Madalyn listened enthralled and said to me as we came out, “Isn’t he wonderful?”

That afternoon, Madalyn and I visited the largest Buddhist church in Honolulu and she picked up several free pamphlets of Buddhist sermons. “You’re not getting religious, are you?” I joked. “Hell, no,” she said. “I’m just curious.

*   *   *

For Madalyn Murray remains unshakable-and unsinkable. Sitting on the veranda of her little rented house at 1060 Spencer Street on the side of Punchbowl Volcano, with the pano­rama of Honolulu and the looming whalelike hump of Diamond Head spread before us, she told me eagerly of her plans in the “tax the churches” suit. “We’re going to subpoena the Archbishop of Baltimore, Lawrence Sheehan,” she said, “and make him tell how much money the church collects from its property in Baltimore, how much of that remains in Baltimore, how much remains in the United States, and how much goes to Rome. That information has never been available before, but it will be now. People can add and subtract; you know. Wait ’til the American public starts figuring out how low its taxes would be if all that untaxed money weren’t flowing out of the country. Madalyn is also planning to run for Governor of Hawaii, on a platform in which a fourth branch of government-the economic-would be added to the executive, legislative, and judicial. She is broke, in debt to the chin, the Baltimore courts won’t let her use her bank account, and she is still riding “at a gallop, high in heart.”

The other victims are less buoyant. Bill Murray is still under psychiatric care. Garth, Madalyn’s other son, has frequent nightmares about “seven-foot tall cops” beating his Mommy. Old Mrs. Mays is subdued and anxious. Madalyn’s brother Irving, 48, gave up a good factory job, not wanting to be the only Murray in Baltimore and a standing target for the remaining hatred, and he has not found a new job yet. As for the victim that has suffered most-the U.S. Constitution-it is not flesh-and-blood and, hence, doesn’t feel its wounds, but if it could speak it would probably whimper softly.

(reprinted in Email to the Universe)

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