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Atheist group plans to fight to bury leader

Atheists say they will fight Madalyn Murray O'Hair's Christian-activist son for the right to bury the remains of the atheist leader.

Federal investigators confirmed on Thursday that bones dug up from a ranch two months ago are those of O'Hair and two family members, ending the mystery of their 1995 disappearance. Investigators say the three were kidnapped, robbed of $500,000 in gold coins, killed and dismembered.

O'Hair's closest surviving relative, William Murray, is head of the Religious Freedom Coalition in Washington.

Murray, 54, was the subject of O'Hair's landmark lawsuit that helped lead to the ban of prayer and Bible reading in public schools. He converted to Christianity and has been estranged from his mother _ America's best-known atheist _ since the 1970s.

"This was a man who lived his life publicly despising her and making money off her," Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists, said Friday. The group was founded by O'Hair in the 1960s.

Johnson said American Atheists fears Murray will bury his family in a religious ceremony.

Texas law allows bodies to be claimed by an organization to which the deceased belonged, said the atheist group's lawyer, Ron Houdyshell. He said that the group has not yet filed any legal claims to the remains and that it could be weeks before they are released by law enforcement.

O'Hair did not want a religious ceremony and left burial instructions with American Atheists, Johnson said. She refused to disclose details.

Murray has said he would not hold a Christian burial and any ceremony would be private. "Ellen wants to use their dead bodies to raise money. There is nothing ethical about American Atheists involvement in this," he said.