Freethought Today · Vol. 28 No. 6 August 2011

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Meet a Legal Intern: Ash

Name: Arash Sajed Khosrowshahi. I go by “Ash” since it’s easier for people to pronounce.
Where and when I was born: San Jose, Calif., Feb. 10, 1987. In a manger, with three wise men present. Fragrant punch was served. Just kidding.
Family: The only other person in my immediate family who’s an atheist is my younger brother Kia, who just turned 18. He’s also the only one in my family who’d want to be mentioned in a heathen newspaper such as this one.
Education: I graduated in 2005 from Center High School in Antelope, Calif. I graduated with dual degrees in philosophy and mathematics from the University of California-Davis in 2009. I’ll be a second-year law student at Boalt Hall at UC-Berkeley. My religious upbringing was: My mom came from a big Irish Catholic family in the Midwest. My dad came from Shiite Iran and was raised with that religious tradition. They taught me general things about God and Jesus and Muhammad, and I got a good dose of being exposed to churches, the bible, mosques and the Quran. They wanted to expose me to these different views so that I would later choose for myself what religion I wanted to practice. I have a feeling though that they each secretly hoped I would pick their faith. They’re pretty uncomfortable with me being an atheist. My mom thinks I’m still going through a phase.
How I came to work as an FFRF legal intern: I was active at UC-Davis in the Agnostic and Atheist Student Association and was familiar with Dan Barker’s debates and the general work FFRF does. After being in law school a couple of months, I figured it would be worth a shot to approach the religion problem in our society from the legal perspective, since I was mainly exposed to it from the theological and technically minded philosophical perspective. While arguing about whether Alvin Plantinga’s modal argument for the existence of God works was intellectually engaging for me, I knew I wouldn’t be making as much of an impact on society doing that as I have been here by being a watchdog for the Establishment Clause.
What I do here: My day-to-day tasks usually involve drafting and sending out “cease and desist” letters to various organizations, schools, police departments and so on which violate the Constitution, such as when there are prayers at graduation ceremonies. I also like to call myself “The Memo Guy,” as I’ve been doing a lot of research on what federal and state courts have said about chaplain programs, religious radio broadcasts on public airwaves, church tax exemptions, roadside crosses and regulations that schools have to follow if they charge religious groups rent to use school facilities.
What I like best about it: Everyone here is incredibly friendly and open to suggestions on how we can improve each other’s work. I also like being able to think about critical legal issues and to see what rationales (or sometimes “irrationales”) judges have used for why we have the laws on religion that we do. Establishment and Free Exercise Clause jurisprudence is very murky and all over the place, which is both good and bad. It’s good because it lets you test different ways you think cases can and should go, and makes the state of the law richer as a result. But it’s bad because oftentimes a judge can basically rule how he or she wants the case to go and find the appropriate legal theory to get there.
Something funny that’s happened at work: One day, Annie Laurie was showing us the different lighting options we could use in the library where we work, and after a serious and fruitful democratic exchange between myself and the other interns over the course of five intense minutes, we chose a semi-ominous, soft-toned “fluorescent lights off, incandescent bulbs on” option. Then one of the staff attorneys came in and said, “This is going to put me to sleep,” and in a fit of authoritarian, Qaddafi-like rage, turned back on all of the lights!
My legal interests are: Despite my interests in the Constitution, civil rights and societal problems, I’m planning to focus on some area of business law, probably centered around banking, taxes or securities. After the recession, I became really interested in learning how Wall Street works. (Short answer: It doesn’t, at least for most of us.) With my math background, I hope to go into the belly of the beast and make the process we have now become more equitable rather than corporatist. But knowing how this story plays out, it’s likely I’ll become Darth Gordon Gekko Vader.
My legal heroes are: I’m a big fan of the late Justice William Brennan and think the Supreme Court would do well if we started appointing more justices with liberal mindsets like he had. Also, because of the Scopes monkey trial and because he was a general badass attorney, Clarence Darrow. In terms of what I think a lawyer should strive to be, I always think of Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
These three words sum me up: Sarcastic, intense, alliterative. Things I like: I like progressive metal music, and I’m getting into post-rock. I like reading, though I don’t have much time for it like I used to. I also watch a lot of political philosophy and current events videos on You- Tube, when I’m not trolling my friends on Facebook or creating Internet memes. I’m a big fan of cynical c ome d i a n s . My favorites are George Carlin, Doug Stanhope and Louis CK. The greatest movie of all time is “The Big Lebowski.”
Things I smite: Idiots.

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