DEAR ABBY: I hope you'll print this and stop an urban legend in its tracks.
A year ago, my husband was handed a copy of a petition at work to sign and pass along. This petition was to stop Madalyn Murray O'Hair. She, as head of an atheist group, was filing a petition to the FCC to stop all religious programming from being aired on television and radio.
Needless to say, I was outraged! And why not? I am a mother and a loyal American who believes wholeheartedly in religious freedom and freedom of the press. I immediately logged on to the Internet and e-mailed this petition to everyone in my address book. Then I made photocopies and mailed them to friends and family who weren't online. I jumped in with both feet to stop Madalyn Murray O'Hair and her group from destroying all that Christians and Americans hold dear.
The only thing I didn't do (at least at first) was check the facts. Had I done so, I would have saved myself a lot of money and time.
The reality is that this petition is just one in a number of urban legends being spread today. Until I typed the name "Madalyn Murray O'Hair" into my search engine, I had no idea that I was not working to stop an atheist from taking away our freedoms, but was instead perpetuating a myth.
Spreading rumors may seem harmless, but it's not. It can cost everyone involved a good chunk of change when you add up the cost of postage, photocopying, stationery and envelopes. It also fuels ignorance and wastes time. The FCC actually had to hire people to handle the flood of mail on this subject.
Abby, I have been sent this petition five times in one year. Can you believe that? Please inform your readers that forwarding e-mail or "snail mail" -- or signing petitions without checking the facts -- is senseless and irresponsible. These "legends" feed on the blind faith of the readers. They rely on the tendency we have to follow our impulses. We should always do our homework before passing anything on, and especially before signing anything. It could save a load of trouble down the line. -- TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, JOHNSON CITY, TENN.
DEAR T OR C: Amen! I'm praying others will heed your message, because urban legends take on a life of their own if they go unchecked. (The one you mentioned has been around since 1974.)
P.S. Madalyn Murray O'Hair has been dead for over half a decade now. It's time we let her rest in peace.
DEAR ABBY: Here's another nervy "Can you top this?" letter: A well-to-do friend of mine insisted on giving me a retirement party, even though I protested.
The gathering was held at a small local yacht club. When my husband arrived with his camera, the hostess told him to be sure to snap a picture when she presented me with the money tree. Champagne was served. Everyone had a lovely time.
On the way home, I remembered that my friend had not presented me with the money tree. When I wrote her a nice thank-you, I ended by asking what happened to it.
Three weeks later on a piece of business correspondence, she added a line on the bottom that said, "The party cost more than anticipated, so the money tree was used to cover expenses." Needless to say, I am no longer in contact with my "tacky" friend. -- CARLSBAD, CALIF., RETIREE
DEAR CARLSBAD: Your letter is a first. Congratulations! I'm speechless.
Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.
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