Twenty-five years ago, Madalyn Murray O’Hair gained notoriety as the person responsible for having prayer removed from the public schools. Since that time, she has been accused—accurately and inaccurately—of a variety of efforts to remove other aspects of religion from public life. Now O’Hair is talking of renewing her failed 1978 effort to have the motto “In God We Trust” removed from American coins and bills.

In recent media interviews, O’Hair has said she will “dedicate the rest of her life” to removing the motto. O’Hair’s son John has indicated that their group, American Atheists, is preparing legal action against the motto, although none has been forthcoming.

In an effort to forestall O’Hair, the National Legal Foundation (NLF,) a conservative legal organization that concentrates on religious-freedom issues, has launched a nationwide ballot campaign. NLF placed a full-page ad in USA Today in July and also included a ballot in a fund-raising letter dated August 10. NLF executive director Robert Skolrood said the organization “never anticipated the tens of thousands” of ballots that have come in from supporters.

NLF has an appointment later this month to present the ballots to the White House. After the election, the group will also present ballots to the newly elected Congress.

Skolrood is quick to emphasize that this campaign has nothing to do with the erroneous petitions that keep coming to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about the rumor that O’Hair is trying to end all religious broadcasting. The FCC said it has received more than 22 million such petitions since 1974. FCC spokesperson Martha Contee said the FCC still receives an average of 80,000 a month, despite years of efforts by that agency, the National Religious Broadcasters, and the National Association of Evangelicals to dispel the rumor. The false petitions have no date, and no names or addresses of sponsoring organizations, making it impossible to stem the tide.

Some critics have suggested that the NLF’s campaign is only a fund-raising strategy, since it is unlikely that O’Hair would succeed in any effort to have the motto removed. But Skolrood disagrees. “In 1963, millions of good, God-fearing Americans failed to take her seriously, so she won [on the school prayer issue],” he said. “This time we are not going to let her win.”

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