American Atheists

This is a logo owned by American Atheists for American Atheists. (link)



Tax ID:


Tax-Exempt Status:


Budget (2019):

Revenue: $832,044
Expenses: $1,436,835
Assets: $1,424,944




Atheist Activist Group


Nick Fish

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American Atheists advocates for a complete separation of church and state and on behalf of the civil liberties of atheists. Founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair after she won a U.S. Supreme Court decision prohibiting prayer in public schools, American Atheists brings lawsuits and public pressure to bear on institutions or events that it perceives as unduly favorable to religion. It is also a proponent of universal sex education, referring to abstinence-only education as “actively harmful.” 1

Like its founder, the group openly courts controversy, inviting Satanic Temple founder Douglas Mesner (also known as Lucien Greaves) to speak at its 2015 national convention. 2 Fellow Satanic Temple member Detryck von Doom, founder of Satanic Louisville, is also assistant state director of American Atheists’ Louisville, Kentucky branch. 3

In March 2020, American Atheists co-wrote a letter to the Small Business Administration asking that it refrain from awarding COVID-19 paycheck protection loans under the CARES Act to religious institutions. 4 American Atheists’ website features a legislation tracker tool that highlights, state-by-state, pending legislation of interest to its members. 5

Madalyn Murray O’Hair

Madalyn Murray O’Hair founded American Atheists in 1963 following a campaign to end prayer and the reading of Bible verses in public schools. According to O’Hair, this campaign began when her 14-year-old son William J. Murray complained of being bullied by classmates and teachers for refusing to pray with the other students. Her suit, Murray vs. Curlett, would later be combined with Abington School District vs. Schempp, and would end in an 8-1 Supreme Court decision banning prayer and Bible reading for non-academic purposes in public schools. 6

The suit vaulted O’Hair into the public eye, and she founded American Atheists in 1963. She led the organization as its first President, with her son Jon Gar Murray eventually taking control. During her tenure as president, O’Hair would file unsuccessful suits to remove the motto “In God We Trust” from American currency and to end the tax-exempt status of religious organizations. 7

O’Hair cultivated a reputation for being brash and foul-mouthed, and was featured on the cover of Life magazine with the caption “The Most Hated Woman in America.” She made numerous television appearances. She once famously stated “I love a good fight. I guess fighting God and God’s spokesmen is sort of the ultimate, isn’t it?” 8 9

O’Hair disappeared in 1995 under suspicion of having embezzled funds from American Atheists. According to employee David Travis, O’Hair was siphoning money from the nonprofit by liquidating assets and relocating them to overseas banks. Travis reportedly made this discovery after he opened a letter from New Zealand Guardian Trust revealing information about an account containing more than a million dollars. 10

O’Hair’s son William Murray also claimed that his mother had diverted $10 million from American Atheists into offshore accounts, although this claim was disputed by former American Atheists president Ellen Johnson. 11

It was later discovered that O’Hair had been kidnapped, tortured, and murdered along with her son Jon Gar Murray and granddaughter Robin Murray O’Hair in 1995. The crimes were perpetrated as part of an extortion scheme led by former American Atheists office manager David R. Waters, who extracted over $600,000 from O’Hair’s bank account over the course of a month. O’Hair’s story was later the subject of a 2017 movie, titled The Most Hated Woman in America. 12


Atheist Monument

In June 2013, American Atheists unveiled a monument dedicated to atheism in front of a Bradford County, Florida courthouse. The first of its kind, the monument consisted of a bench which was inscribed with quotes from Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin, and was erected as part of a settlement following American Atheists’ suit to remove the Ten Commandments from the courthouse property. 13

Godless Americans PAC

Godless Americans PAC was an initiative of American Atheists started in 2005 to support non-religious candidates. The PAC was not very successful in raising donations, losing money every year after its initial infusion of cash, and had its most active year in 2008, donating $2,500 to then-Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) and $1,000 to Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). 14

In the 2013-2014 election cycle, it raised only $500 and by the 2015-2016 election cycle, the PAC had become defunct. 15

American Atheists’ litigation arm, American Atheists Legal Center (AALC), deals with reported claims of undue favoritism to religion. Its website also offers a portal through which users can report possible violations of religious neutrality by government entities. AALC partners with other atheist groups including American Humanist Association, Freedom from Religion Foundation, and Center for Inquiry to bring these cases. 16

The website also features a running list of cases in which AALC has prevailed, many of which involve preventing public prayer at graduations or during other civic events, ordering teachers or police officers not to pray with students, or preventing the erection of nativity scenes or crosses in public spaces. 17

Sex Education

American Atheists is a supporter of universal comprehensive sex education curricula and encourages its members to challenge school systems that do not provide sex education. It advises members to demand to inspect schools’ sex education curricula to make sure these are in line with social-liberal views. American Atheists also encourages parents to attend school board meetings, run for board seats, and stage protests with their children if they attend the school in question. American Atheists recommends the Planned Parenthood or Advocates for Youth curricula, as well as MTV’s “It’s Your (Sex) Life” as resources for students. 18

American Atheists also provides a toolkit that lists recommended talking points and advice on dealing with the media and conducting interviews. They include the assertion that abstinence until marriage is harmful to youth, and the claim that 85% of parents and youth are in favor of comprehensive sex education. 19


American Atheists offers a series of scholarships for students from high school through graduate school. It offers two $1,000 O’Hair scholarships, and two scholarships of $500 each for atheist LGBT activism. Applicants need not be members of American Atheists to apply, but they are required to join the organization to accept the grants, with the first year of membership offered for free. 20

Opposition to Health Worker Conscience Rights Legislation

In March 2021, American Atheists voiced opposition to proposed healthcare worker conscience-protection legislation in Kentucky. American Atheists suggests that this legislation, and similar legislation proposed in Arkansas, could allow a receptionist to refuse check-in for an overweight person for heart disease treatment, or allow researchers to refuse to publish results not in line with their religious beliefs. AALC claims “There is simply no evidence that health care workers are regularly forced to provide health services that violate their religious beliefs.” 21


Nick Fish is the president of American Atheists, having previously worked as its program director and primary spokesperson. He is also the former program director of the Secular Coalition for America, and led call-center fundraising for the American Civil Liberties Union, Democratic National Committee (DNC), Amnesty International, and the LGBT activist group Human Rights Campaign. 22


  1. “Medically Accurate Sex Education Talking Points.” American Atheists. Accessed November 29, 2021.
  2. “American Atheists Tackles Bible Belt for 2015 Convention.” American Atheists. September 16, 2014. Accessed November 29, 2021.
  3. “Kentucky.” American Atheists. Accessed November 29, 2021.
  4. “$350 billion Relief Fund is for Businesses, Not Unaccountable Churches.” American Atheists. April 1, 2020. Accessed November 29, 2021.
  5. “State Legislation Tracker.” American Atheists. Accessed November 29, 2021.
  6. Vile, John R. “Abington School District v. Schempp (1963).” Accessed November 29, 2021.
  7. Neumann, Caryn E. “Madalyn Murray O‘Hair.” Accessed November 29, 2021.
  8. “Madalyn Murray-O’Hair.” Undated. Accessed November 29, 2021.
  9. Milloy, Ross E. “Bodies Identified as Those of Missing Atheist and Kin.” New York Times. March 16, 2001. Accessed November 29, 2021.
  10. Duggan, Paul. “The Atheist’s Cold Case Gets Warmer.” Washington Post. August 16, 1999. Accessed November 29, 2021.
  11. Adams, Susan. “Unholy Roller.” Forbes. November 10, 2003. Accessed November 29, 2021.
  12. Milloy, Ross E. “Bodies Identified as Those of Missing Atheist and Kin.” New York Times. March 16, 2001. Accessed November 29, 2021.
  13. “Atheists to Unveil Florida Courthouse Monument.” American Atheists. May 20, 2013. Accessed November 29, 2021.
  14. “PAC Profile: Godless Americans.” Open Secrets. Accessed November 29, 2021.
  15. “PAC Profile: Godless Americans.” Open Secrets. Accessed November 29, 2021.
  16. “Report a Violation.” American Atheists. Accessed November 29, 2021.
  17. “Legal Successes.” American Atheists. Accessed November 29, 2021.
  18. “Fighting Abstinence-Only Sex Education.” American Atheists. Accessed November 29, 2021.
  19. “Medically Accurate Sex Education Talking Points.” American Atheists. Accessed November 29, 2021.
  20. “Scholarships.” American Atheists. Undated. Accessed November 29, 2021.
  21. “Stop State Lawmakers from Using Beliefs to Deny Healthcare.” American Atheists. March 4, 2021. Accessed November 29, 2021.
  22. “Nick Fish.” Linkedin. Undated. Accessed November 29, 2021.
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: June - May
  • Tax Exemption Received: July 1, 1988

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2019 Jun Form 990 $832,044 $1,436,835 $1,424,944 $69,096 N $623,998 $108,803 $42,020 $114,266 PDF
    2018 Jun Form 990 $567,754 $827,134 $1,994,600 $42,396 N $408,922 $150,015 $16,445 $68,312 PDF
    2017 Dec Form 990 $1,481,553 $1,248,560 $2,245,845 $38,165 N $1,160,208 $109,394 $64,224 $189,374 PDF
    2016 Dec Form 990 $908,792 $1,166,031 $2,053,146 $55,761 N $835,947 $10,392 $43,001 $178,214 PDF
    2015 Dec Form 990 $1,796,107 $1,233,566 $2,214,650 $31,375 N $1,623,614 $144,145 $67,222 $174,368 PDF
    2014 Dec Form 990 $946,693 $1,209,171 $1,765,482 $72,340 N $668,286 $162,778 $39,546 $144,422 PDF
    2013 Dec Form 990 $1,026,819 $1,320,540 $2,109,164 $155,750 N $713,224 $175,905 $48,688 $154,139 PDF
    2012 Dec Form 990 $907,075 $1,390,930 $2,317,295 $81,925 N $557,888 $232,558 $80,000 $151,767 PDF
    2011 Dec Form 990 $1,757,542 $877,186 $2,870,335 $250,733 N $1,431,531 $146,802 $71,915 $121,213 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    American Atheists

    CRANFORD, NJ 07016-3214