Seven months ago, the one-time atheist teen-ager from Baltimore who stayed home from school rather than listen to teachers pray, went to the U.S. Capitol to apologize for his role in the 1963 Supreme Court ruling that ended formal prayers in public schools.

Today, William Murray, son of strident atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, has become a leader in the national movement to reinstitute school prayer. The 34-year-old former airline company manager -- who experienced problems with depression and alcoholism before he "found God" last year -- now lives in Houston, Tex., as director of the Faith Foundation.

Murray helped found the "educational, religious foundation" shortly after his public apology last spring. It is non-denominational, he says, "but tilted toward Christianity," and "works with people who have drug and alcohol problems."

Murray says he and his mother, who heads the American Atheist Center in Austin, Tex., haven't talked in three years. O'Hair, a former psychiatric social worker, told reporters after Murray's apology letter appeared: "This is a way of getting back at mother."

Now she laughs when asked about her son. "He is just as atheist as I am," she claims. "He had a horrible life because of that school prayer thing. That boy was beaten up by Christians.

"I'm very happy he's going to fleece them. Bless his heart, I hope he gets as much money as he can."

Murray refuses to respond to this accusation. "The person who lives in a glass house always throws the first stone," he says. "I'm not a thief."

Of his upbringing he says: "Being raised in an atheist home didn't give me the tools to prepare me for society -- or for society to be prepared for me. It prepared me to step on anyone I could, because, after all, there was no one to judge me but myself.

"Taking religion out of the schools has had a detrimental effect on the country. There's an increase in crime and violence in the public schools, in drug addiction, homosexuality, the VD rate, teen-age pregnancy. It's much higher than when prayer and Bible were in the school. There's no doubt that there's a linkage there."

What about children who believe in a religion -- such as Buddhism or Judaism -- that is in the minority in this country?

"I think it should be up to the community," says Murray. "If the community is 90 percent Muslim, then fine.

"But we worry about the minority's beliefs to the extent that it infringes on the majority, and it's starting to get out of hand. We teach that all men are created equal and that infringes on the rights of the Ku Klux Klan who doesn't believe that.

"To let the 2 percent of this country who are atheist tell us what to teach in school is ludicrous. I see nothing wrong with two minutes of silence, if for nothing more than to shut up the entire school for two minutes."