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Freethought Today · August 2012

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Meet the Interns: Ben and JJ

ben jj

FFRF legal interns Ben Zich (left) and J.J. Rolling with Bertrand Russell and FFRF’s “Emperor” statuettes. Note both interns were born on the same date! (Photo by Andrew L. Seidel)

 

Loving language, even legalese

Name: J.J. Rolling

Where and when I was born: Madison, Wis., April 1, 1987. (My mother was also born on April 1, no foolin’!)

Family: Parents, Cindy and John Rolling, and sister, Cecily.

Education: B.S. in economics, University of Wisconsin-Madison; University of Wisconsin Law School, anticipated J.D. in 2014.

My religious upbringing was: I was baptized a Catholic, but I attended Congregationalist and Presbyterian churches growing up. I recognize that I have been very fortunate to have a family that allowed my beliefs, religious and not, to be my own.  

How I came to work as an FFRF legal intern: My previous work and internships were in the business world. They were math-heavy, research-oriented and analytical. Therefore, when I saw that I could work in a field that naturally arouses passionate discourse, I was excited to apply.

I believe that I benefit the organization by using some of the skills I acquired there to help unmask the organizations, property owners and businesses violating the Constitution.

What I do here: I help write open records requests to government agencies, draft letters for staff attorneys responding to member concerns and research everything I can get my hands on regarding First Amendment issues.

What I like best about it: All of the attorneys I have worked with are very sharp in their own right, but I have never seen their brains go to their heads. Egos do not get in the way of our team and mission.

Something funny that’s happened at work: Some of the chastising, taunting and general nastiness from the FFRF’s “fans” gives the office a laugh. If there is a hell and the assurances of these “supporters” are true, I look forward to meeting up with all of my office mates again.   

My legal interests are: Cities have always fascinated me, so I’m interested in any legal issues at the crossroads of private property, real estate and public works. Although the legal issues we deal with at FFRF may seem remote, I think they actually fit with my interests quite well. To me, defining and enforcing the rights of groups in a society are necessary components to well-functioning urban civilization.  

My legal heroes are: Although he may not have done much in the way of writing appeals or cross-examination, Demosthenes is the ancient equivalent of a lawyer who inspires me. Supposedly, he taught himself to deliver more forceful oratory by practicing speeches with pebbles in his mouth and shouting over roaring waves.

He matched his dedication in training with his love for Athens, which he served by attempting to use his considerable talents for rhetoric to rally against a coming invasion by the Macedonians.

These three words sum me up: Sharp, creative, redhead.

Things I like: I’m a Madison native and I love this unique city. I love playing soccer, which I did from youth and into college. Perhaps most, I love language. I love reading, the sound of words and foreign languages. I regard myself as fortunate to be a native English speaker because the language allows us to use different sentences to describe the same thought but convey entirely different meanings.

Things I smite: I hate, hate, hate any notion that our society’s future is bleak or that we cannot get better. I’ll allow that this may sound like naiveté or unconstrained idealism, but I absolutely refuse to listen to people who use the phrase, “given the way things are going.”

We’ll fix it and if not, we’ll manage it, and if not, we’ll survive it.

 

Interning at Rick’s Café

Name: Benjamin Zich.

Where and when I was born: Omaha, Neb., April 1, 1987. 

Family: An older sister (28), a younger brother (23), and a younger sister (17). My father is an electrical engineer and my mother was a special education teacher until she became a “stay-at-home mom” when my eldest sister was born. 

Education: B.A. in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where my senior thesis on Andrew Marvell, a 17th century English metaphysical poet, is collecting dust somewhere in the deepest recesses of the UNC library. I’m currently a J.D. candidate at Wake Forest Law School in Winston-Salem. 

My religious upbringing was: Evangelical. I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian household that believed the bible was literally true, that the Earth was created in six days, that it’s 6,000 years old and all that jazz. I began to have qualms with Christianity when I was a sophomore in high school because I had the usual theological questions and received the usual theological “answers,” but the answers I got from my pastor I found anemic and not compelling, though I couldn’t say exactly why at the time.

The dissatisfaction I felt with these pat answers was the first in a series of disenchantments with religion that culminated two years later when I admitted to myself I was certainly no longer a bible-believing-Christian and probably (gasp!) an atheist. 

How I came to work as an FFRF legal intern: I was interested in church/state separation issues after my first year at Wake Forest University, so I started poking around the Internet to find out about organizations that were working to enforce the First Amendment. My search quickly led me to FFRF, and I immediately knew I wanted to intern here. 

What I do here: The barbarians are at the gate! I help keep those barbarians on the other side of that gate. To do that, I help with research on Establishment Clause cases, draft and send out letters of complaint and listen to too many legislative prayer recordings. 

What I like best about it: Every morning is like walking into Rick’s Café from “Casablanca.” Dan Barker will usually start off the day with some piano music and I, like Humphrey Bogart, will throw back a few shots (of espresso or coffee). Seriously though, I really love the work environment here. I feel lucky to be improving my professional skills while working on such important issues, especially since I get to work with such talented, smart, freethinking people. 

Something funny that’s happened at work: Learning that I share the exact birthdate with one of my fellow interns, J.J. Rolling. Also, I hate to admit it, but I enjoy Dan’s puns.

My legal interests are: Outside of Establishment Clause issues, my interests are in intellectual property, cyber-law, Internet architecture, free speech and privacy.

My legal heroes are: Lawrence Lessig and Jonathan Zittrain, two great visionaries of law in the Information Age, and Benjamin Cardozo, who was not just an influential judge, but a wonderful prose writer as well. He brought a whole new meaning to “poetic justice.” 

These three words sum me up: Happy-go-lucky.

Things I like: I am basically an “otaku” (someone who likes anime, comic books and video games), but I also like a good game of pickup basketball, Stanley Kubrick movies, udon noodles, the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy, just about every Cole Porter tune and boba tea. 

Things I smite: Jogging (and working out in general). As Woody Allen said, I would prefer to atrophy. I don’t like it when people thoughtlessly forward or repost stories on the Internet that are easily debunked by spending all of five seconds to look it up on snopes.com or politifact.com

What is your favorite logical fallacy/argument? The false dichotomy. I see it all of the time when talking with theists. Somehow, tons of theists believe that “meaning” exists either on the cosmic scale or not at all. They say things like, “Well, if you’re an atheist, nothing matters.” This false dichotomy looks something like this: 

• P1: If God does not exist, there is no ultimate meaning or purpose to the universe.

• P2: Atheists believe that God does not exist.

• C: Therefore, for atheists, nothing matters or has any meaning at all.

This drives me nuts. How do you go from “there is no ultimate meaning” to “no meaning at all”? It’s such an obvious slide but many people totally buy it.

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