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Freethought Today · August 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

FFRF’s interns help keep up the fight

FFRF has seven legal interns working at its Madison, Wis., office this summer. Here are their profiles.

Name: Ben Becker

Where I was born: Milwaukee, Wis.

Education: I started at Purdue University, and then transferred to Marquette University, where I earned my B.A. degree in criminology and legal studies, along with a minor in sociology. I am also a 2018 Juris Doctor candidate at the University of Wisconsin Law School.

My religious upbringing was: Reform Judaism.

What I do here: The majority of my work revolves around composing legal letters that are sent to the alleged violator or their legal counsel in order to rectify the situation and bring it within the realm of Establishment Clause constitutionality. Background research, open records requests, and other forms of investigation are also integral to my work.

What I like best about it: My ability to effect real change. Having such opportunities in an area so important to our society and constitutional jurisprudence is remarkably fulfilling.

My legal interests are: Constitutional/election law, higher education law, sports and entertainment law.

My legal heroes are: James McGill and Saul Goodman (fictional characters from the AMC TV show "Better Call Saul").

These three words sum me up: Introspective, reliable, passionate.

Things I like: Well, this is certainly a broad prompt. I like a myriad of things, the highlights being: Watches/horology; dogs — the bigger the better, as I grew up with Bernese Mountain dogs and a Leonberger; music — I've played piano, alto saxophone, guitar and bass. In addition, I try to attend as many shows as I can and know way more about the late-'80s/early-'90s Seattle music scene than is probably healthy. I play in an Ultimate Frisbee league, have golfed for the majority of my life, and sometimes dabble in soccer. Teams I support include the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Bucks, UW Badgers, Sporting Kansas City, and Everton; good food and drink; science fiction and science fact, especially as it relates to space exploration.

Things I smite: The inability to be punctual, micromanaging, and at the risk of my supervising attorney looking over my shoulder, Establishment Clause violations, obviously. Hi, Liz!

My loftiest goal: Becoming chancellor/president of a major research university.

Name: Russell Busch.

Where and when I was born: Chicago in 1990.

Family: Most of my family is in central Illinois.

Education: Undergrad at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; law school at University of Michigan Law.

My religious upbringing was: "Culturally Catholic."

What I do here: I address member complaints with letters, and work on litigation.

What I like best about it: The intersection of speech and religion in First Amendment issues.

My legal interests are: Freedom of thought, litigation in general.

My legal heroes are: Justice John Marshall Harlan, Justice William J. Brennan (particularly for his opinion in Texas v. Johnson).

Things I like: La Croix, necromancers and warlocks.

Things I smite: Authoritarian mentalities, intellectual laziness, the texture and flavor of coconut.

My loftiest goal: To argue a case before the Supreme Court (and win!).

Name: Ryan Christensen.

Where and when I was born: Queensbury, N.Y., in 1995.

Family: My mom Margaret, my dad Andrew and my sister Nicole.

Education: Senior at UMass-Amherst, majoring in legal studies and political science.

My religious upbringing was: Roman Catholic.

What I do here: Most of my time is spent writing drafts of letters for FFRF's lawyers for all kinds of church/state separation violations. I also do research (on things like tuition tax credits and social media history), occasionally help with the filming of "Ask an Atheist," and transcribe prayers in videos sent to us by complainants.

What I like best about it: Learning more about Establishment Clause case law every day, and having lawyers help me improve my writing.

My legal interests are: The Bill of Rights, stare decisis and how courts decide whether to overturn previous decisions, power struggles between the three branches, federalism and the powers of states and localities, Civil War Amendments.

My legal heroes are: James Madison, Abraham Lincoln.

These three words sum me up: Skeptical, idiosyncratic, contrarian.

Things I like: Reading, playing chess, watching Netflix, soccer, tennis, snowboarding.

Things I smite: People who walk slowly.

My loftiest goal: Running for office.

Name: Dante C.H. Harootunian.

Where and when I was born: Syracuse, N.Y., in 1994.

Family: I grew up with my parents and my younger brother.

Education: I graduated from UC-Santa Cruz in 2016. I double majored in politics and history and minored in legal studies. I am currently attending the University of Minnesota Law School.

My religious upbringing was: I was raised in a nonreligious household.

What I do here: Mostly, I have been drafting letters of complaint to public schools violating the rights of their students. I have also drafted a few Freedom of Information Act requests, and am currently working on some legal research.

What I like best about it: I like being able to help students and their families who are brave enough to take legal action to defend their rights in towns and school districts where they are likely to be shunned and bullied for doing so.

My legal interests: Immigration, international and constitutional law.

My legal heroes are: Justices Harry Blackmun, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

These three words sum me up: Persistent, friendly, planner.

Things I like: Dogs, politics, dogs, podcasts and dogs.

Things I smite: Anti-intellectualism.

My loftiest goal: To spend my career helping refugees gain asylum in the United States.

Name: Mark Noel.

Where and when I was born: Milwaukee, Wis., in 1986.

Family: I and my brother were raised by a hard-working single mother.

Education: Joliet Junior College, University of Washington (B.A. in sociology), University of Washington (J.D.).

My religious upbringing was: Christian (nondenominational).

What I do here: Draft legal and policy letters to various governmental entities, research prisoner inquiries, background legal research for potential litigation.
What I like best about it: Helping ensure the protection of constitutional rights.

My legal interests are: Land use, tax, and entrepreneurial law.

My legal heroes are: John Adams, Justice Anthony Kennedy.

These three words sum me up: Eclectic, curious, skeptical.

Things I like: Travel, playing basketball, cooking, craft beer.

Things I smite: Myopia, willful ignorance, grape-flavored things.

My loftiest goal: Get elected to public office in the state of Washington.

Name: Cory Paul

Where I was born: Knoxville, Tenn. I grew up with my parents and two younger brothers.

Education: I graduated with departmental honors in anthropology from Grinnell College in 2012, and will be starting my second year at Columbia Law School.
My religious upbringing was: Southern Baptist, but my family was good about letting me explore other religions and ideas. I gradually fell out of the church around the start of high school.

What I do here: I write letters of complaint to towns and school boards concerning constitutional violations reported by members of FFRF or community members who find us while searching for assistance. I also perform legal research on FFRF's active and potential cases, including research on standing issues, state tax codes, etc.

My legal interests are: Pretty boring, but I enjoy studying and debating minutiae. Administrative Procedure Act and tax cases are where I've specialized so far.

My legal heroes are: Justice John Paul Stevens demonstrated how a justice's judgment can evolve over time, and his ability to recognize and repair his own flaws on freedom of speech cases is a great example of facing personal bias.

These three words sum me up: Calm, reserved, bookish.

Things I like: Pub food, chess and hiking.

Things I smite: There's nothing I particularly dislike except sad salads. If I spend $10 to get served wilted lettuce and a couple tomatoes, that's terrible.

My loftiest goal: To be retired, 90 years old, and drinking orange juice on my porch with a partner of over 50 years.

Name: Evan Stang.

Where and when I was born: Madison, Wis., in 1995.

Family: Parents Paul and Carol Stang.

Education: Legal studies, economics major.

My religious upbringing was: Presbyterian.

What I do here: Write letters.

What I like best about it: When [FFRF Legal Assistant] Whitney Steffen gives me stickers.

My legal interests are: Constitutional, contractional.

My legal hero is: Barack Obama.

These three words sum me up: Rides a motorcycle.

Things I like: My motorcycle.

Things I smite: Traffic.

My loftiest goal: Climb Mount Everest.