Meet a Legal Intern: Laura Steigerwald

Name: Laura A. Steigerwald.
Where and when I was born: New Year’s Eve 1979 in Brookfield, Wis. I grew up in adjacent Elm Grove and moved back to Brookfield when I was 14. Elm Grove is an ultra-conservative, wealthy area known for large Catholic families. It’s where my father grew up as the eldest of nine children. I’m sure if it were legal to build a fence around a village, Elm Grove would.
Family: My mother’s side is made up of hardworking, liberal Democrats, and my father’s side is the complete opposite. I’m much closer to my mother’s side. I have one brother, who married a Lutheran a year ago. It was quite sad to witness the controversy stirred up by my militant Catholic aunts (both married to Lutherans) over my brother marrying a Lutheran. Apparently, he will not go to the same heaven as his wife because Catholics go to a higher level of heaven? I’m sure they have computers in heaven, so they can probably Skype. At least now I don’t have to explain why I’m an atheist.
Education: I went to Catholic grade school, where I was teased and tormented for my weight and for being a tomboy. After years of my parents fighting over it, they let me transfer in seventh grade to public school, where the teasing stopped. I got my associate’s degree in computer information systems from Waukesha County Technical College and then transferred to Carroll University.
The entire time I was in school, I worked in information technology at a medium-sized, global company based in Milwaukee. After several years working in IT, I decided to pursue a legal career. In May, I graduated with a bachelor of business administration in human resources and legal studies from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. I will start law school this fall at UW-Madison.
My religious upbringing was: Cat-lick, in the sense that if the pope (or Virgin Mary hallucination) were to tell grandma and/or my aunts to lick a cat while praying the rosary, they would — seriously. They also believed in the “Three Days of Darkness” set to occur before the year 2000, when “daemons” would roam Earth for three days and you had to board up all your windows and stay inside. Personally, I’d rather get sucked up by a daemon than eat canned corn for three days, another reason I’m an atheist.
How I came to work as an FFRF legal intern: I’ve been a freethinker since about age 14 when I refused to participate in the Catholic sacrament of confirmation. Accelerating the process around that time was witnessing the aftermath of my dad leaving my mom for a much younger woman and the hypocrisy of them confessing their “sin” and receiving communion right after they got married, as if nothing had ever happened.
My mom saved an Isthmus [weekly newspaper] article with Dan and Annie Laurie on the cover and showed it to me. That’s how I became familiar with FFRF. Then I began following FFRF and all the great things they do. I applied for an internship and feel super-lucky to have gotten one.
What I do here: I help out the staff attorneys with various tasks. I do research on the Internet and draft letters and emails.
What I like best about it: I love the confidence I have that no one here will judge me for my nonreligious beliefs or my sexual orientation. I love being surrounded by freethinkers and LGBT allies. I also love working with Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott, because he is super-nice and patient. Then again, everyone here is super-nice. I’m also learning a lot about the Establishment Clause and First Amendment.
Something funny that’s happened: The package that came with “SEE U IN HEL” scrawled on the outside. At least this person admits that he or she is going to hell! Maybe in his or her religion, bad spelling is a mortal sin?
My legal interests are: Labor and employment law (discrimination, EEO, ADA, worker’s comp, unemployment, labor contracts, etc.), constitutional law, criminal law and immigration law. I want to fight for the “little guy.”
My legal heroes are: Chief Justice Earl Warren (in some ways), Justices John Paul Stevens (loved the bowties), William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Also Russ Feingold, Tammy Baldwin, Harvey Milk, FDR, Obama, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, MLK Jr. and Gandhi.
Can I also say Judge Judy? I love her.
These three words sum me up: Resilient, idealistic, ambitious.
Things I like: My apricot toy poodle, Macey; friends of all faiths and nonfaiths, school (never thought I’d say that), motorcycles, jet skis, boats, water skiing, “Up North,” movies, NPR and Wisconsin Public Radio, Rachel Maddow, computers, the Constitution and the Internet (which, if it were a playground, Google would be the most amazing, multi-functional jungle gym on it).
I like UW-Whitewater and all the amazing professors I’ve had there, and I love my job at Office of Residence Life and all the awesome people I work with.
Things I smite: Narrow minds, dogma, oppression, homophobia, sexism, racism, pollution, genocide, theocracies, sunburn, hot and humid weather, things that smell bad, blue cheese, green olives, the Religious Right, FOX News, Rush Limbaugh, tripping and falling over nothing, slow computers and broken printers.

Freedom From Religion Foundation