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Freethought Today · January/February 2014

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Meet a Legal Staffer - Patrick Elliott

Macy puppyName: Patrick Elliott.

Where and when I was born: St. Paul, Minn., Oct. 7, 1983.

Education: B.S. in legal studies and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2005) and a J.D. from the University of Wisconsin Law School (2009). 

Family: I live in Madison with my girlfriend, Sarah, and our Labrador retriever, Macy. My parents, sister, two brothers and extended family live in the Twin Cities. 

How I came to work at FFRF: As a recent law school graduate and First Amendment enthusiast, I saw that FFRF had an opening in the legal department in 2010 and I jumped at the opportunity.

What I do here: Separate church and state. Our attorneys work to resolve state/church violations through communications with government officials. We also educate the public about the Establishment Clause and advise FFRF on litigation and act as in-house counsel. I have helped oversee litigation involving Ten Commandments displays in schools, school board prayers, state days of prayer, and FFRF’s IRS cases. In addition, I help with advocacy on legislation, including opposing proposals to expand private school vouchers.

What I like best about it: I get to work on a lot of really fun and interesting cases that most attorneys would never have the chance to work on. They are fun because almost every one involves the government, religion and the Constitution.

One of my favorite moments at FFRF was when I received a thank-you call from a school administrator. I thought to myself, “This never happens.” We are used to angry calls but not thank-you calls. School board members had changed their mind on approving a fundamentalist charter school, and the administrator said we were instrumental in changing the vote.

What sucks about it: I feel like Newman from “Seinfield” sometimes and how he talked about the mail: “There’s never a letup, It’s relentless.” The number of new violations does not seem to be letting up, even though we are surely making progress. 

I spend a lot of time thinking about: Accepted everyday practices that are probably wrong or could be done better. This is mostly “Freakonomics” type stuff like how buses stopping at train tracks in the city probably cause more accidents than they prevent. 

I spend little if any time thinking about: How to make sense of the bible or any religious text. 

My religious upbringing was: Roman Catholic, and not just nominally Catholic. My brothers now make fun of me for hurrying them up so we would not be late to Mass and for “shushing” them in church.

My doubts about religion started: After taking a course on early Christian literature in college. I took that class after watching Dan Barker debate a Christian apologist on whether Jesus rose from the dead. At the time, I thought Dan lost the debate but I was interested in learning more about the history of the bible. It turns out that he won the debate, but it just took me a while to realize it. 

Things I like: Marine aquariums, poker, stand-up comedy, NCAA “March Madness.”

Things I smite: Closed government meetings and records, revisionist history, coaches not going for it on fourth down when it’s the correct thing to do.

In my golden years: I’ll be living near a lake or ocean.

Upcoming projects? I’m working on creating a T-shirt celebrating the Third Amendment.

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