A Letter from American Atheists President Frank Zindler

I’ll admit I’m just swiping this from Dave Silverman‘s blog. But it’s worth reading Frank Zindler‘s letter in its entirety. It comes, I think, long after we needed to hear these words and the explanation for Ellen Johnson’s dismissal, but I’m glad he wrote them:

In Service of the Cause of Reason
Frank R. Zindler

Madalyn Murray O’Hair would be quite astounded — indeed, a bit dismayed — to see me occupying the president’s chair of American Atheists, Inc., an office she herself first filled when she created the organization back in May of 1987. I say this because even though Madalyn was like a second mother to me and to my wife Ann, it was always clear that she expected the organization to be ruled by a dynasty of which she was the progenetrix. Indeed, the presidential mantle fell quickly upon the shoulders of her younger son Jon Garth Murray. There was ever the expectation that the third-generation president of American Atheists, Inc. would be an offspring either of the never-married Jon or of her granddaughter and adopted daughter Robin Murray-O’Hair. (Robin was the daughter of Madalyn’s estranged elder son William Murray, Jr.)

Mind you, it is not that Madalyn would have felt me to be unqualified to hold this office. She would have known that I have been a member since 1977 and was elected to her board of directors in the early 1980s. She would have known that I was the author of several Atheist books, over fifty articles in American Atheist, and I had taken part in over 400 commercial radio and television talk-shows and debates against priests, creationists, theologians, religious apologists, enemies of the ‘Wall of Separation between State and Church,’ and Right-to-Single-Cell-Lifers. She would have known that for thirteen years after her death I had served faithfully as managing editor of her beloved American Atheist Press, publishing newsletters, magazines, books, and Atheist ephemera. No, she wouldn’t think I was unqualified (except perhaps because of my age) to be Acting President; but she probably would not be entirely pleased.

I suspect that Madalyn would have been less disappointed when Ellen Johnson took the helm of her flagship, although I suspect that “the most hated woman in America” would have been more than a trifle jealous of the glamorous and suave woman who captured media attention almost as much as she had — certainly more effectively than had her son Jon Murray in his prematurely terminated tenure in office.

Perhaps because my occupation of this office will be brief, there is something slightly surreal about my present status. Can I really — in any significant sense — be a successor to Madalyn Murray O’Hair? How could two people of such different temperaments and talents fill the same office, serve the same purpose, pursue the same goals? Are not the needs today of American Atheists different in many ways from those satisfied by the Murray-O’Hair family? Are not many needs the same as well? Would it be wise — or prudent — for me to imitate their practices in the face of changed circumstances?

It is hard for me to grasp my successor status in large part because I never sought it and had little warning that it was imminent. I never seriously expected that Ellen Johnson would ever be removed from office. I always had hoped (and expected) that the increasing number of disagreements — concerning policies, practices, and priorities — between her and the boards of directors of the five affiliated American Atheists corporations would be resolved and that Ellen would be their president until the end of my life. Alas, that proved not to be the case.

During the two weeks leading up to April 29, 2008, duly noticed special meetings that had been requested by majorities of all five boards of directors of the affiliated corporations were called by the Secretary for the purpose of “ironing out” the differences. A decision had to be made, for example, whether or not the boards of directors were the controlling authorities of their respective corporations (as mandated by all five constitutions and bylaws) or not. A seemingly irreconcilable difference of opinion concerning who controlled American Atheists had to be resolved. But even more important was the question of who should be held most responsible for what American Atheists does — or doesn’t do. The president or the board? Board members felt that under the constituåtion and bylaws their fiduciary responsibilities were decisively greater than those of the president.

For reasons of which I am unaware, Ellen did not participate in either meeting. Then, on the evening of April 29, 2008, a joint-session telephone conference was held by the boards of directors of American Atheists, Inc.; American Atheists General Headquarters, Inc.; Charles E. Stevens American Atheist Library & Archives, Inc. (CESAALA); Society of Separationists, Inc.; and United Secularists of America, Inc., with Ellen Johnson participating by cell-phone.

Of the eleven men and three women comprising those directorships, constitutionally mandated majorities considered it their fiduciary duty to remove Ellen Johnson from the office she had held for thirteen years. I was among that majority. It was one of the most painful decisions I have ever had to make. Minutes later, I was nominated and unanimously elected Acting President of the five corporations. Thus began the surreal sensations that I still experience.

It should be noted that the resolutions passed by the corporations effectively terminating Ellen’s presidency sought to respect her dignity by giving her 72 hours in which to submit a resignation — failing which she would be removed from office. Public notices needing to be given before the deadline were deliberately nonspecific as to whether she had resigned or been fired. No resignation was forthcoming.

Let me make it absolutely, bluntly clear: Ellen had done nothing illegal or even close to being illegal leading up to her termination from office. Nevertheless the many issues in dispute were substantial and of great importance if American Atheists is to remain secure, stable, and positioned for growth. As I have observed in reply to several letters I have received concerning the circumstances of the separation, it is like a divorce “for irreconcilable differences.” Just as such divorces can nevertheless often be anguished and painful, so too is the present split. But it is also the case that even bitterly fought divorces can often lead to reconciliation after wounds have been healed by time. We earnestly hope that will be the case here as well.

There is, however, a remaining area of dispute of which readers should be made aware. The Board of the Atheist library corporation CESAALA is asking Ellen to return diaries of Madalyn Murray O’Hair and other memorabilia salvaged from the Murray-O’Hair home back in 1996 after the murder of the ‘First Family of Atheism.’ According to the terms of their joint will, all such personal property was to become the possession of CESAALA “with the stipulation that the library shall forever have the purpose of finding, preserving, and keeping Atheist and related books for research and enlightenment of Atheists.” The Board of Directors considers obtaining the diaries of its corporate founder a fundamental fiduciary duty. As this issue of American Atheist goes to press, no response from Ellen on this issue has been received.

What, then, is the plan for my pro tempore presidency in succession to Madalyn Murray O’Hair? Perhaps because I am serving without salary and the job is extremely difficult, my plan is quite simple: to put myself out of office as soon as possible and to be succeeded by someone of whom Madalyn might be more proud. The boards of directors have asked me to publish an advertisement in this issue of American Atheist soliciting applications to fill the office of president. I am confident that we will receive applications from at least several men and women of whom not only Madalyn would be proud but — more importantly by far — you will be proud.

Is there anyone you feel should be applying for the position?

(via NoGodBlog)


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • Dan

    Hands down, Matt Dillahunty from The Atheist Experience (based out of Austin, Texas). If you’ve never listened/watched their television show, you’re missing out big time! Also, their podcast, The Non-Prophets, is wonderful as well (they just had P.Z. Myers on as a guest a few episodes back).

    Matt was studying to be a minister when he became an atheist and is one of the most rational, well-spoken faces for atheism you can imagine.

  • http://gaytheist.wordpress.com Reed Braden

    No one who’s qualified to steer the Titanic run the organisation wants to take the captain’s wheel be president. I don’t understand why. :eyeroll:

  • http://mygoddlessdrama.blogspot.com/ Stacy

    how about you, Hemant?

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    Hmm… It might be fun to throw a hat into the ring, but I don’t think it’s likely to happen from either end.

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com/ Bad

    Even if nominated, I will not run.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    I agree with Dan. Matt is great! If that happened I might even consider joining.