I interned this summer with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) in Madison, Wisconsin. FFRF is a national organization that promotes a strict separation of church-and-state and works to educate the public on matters of nontheism. I spent much of my summer researching Establishment Clause violations in the 5th Circuit as reported by both FFRF members and the general public, and, if applicable, drafting letters to government actors asking them to address such violations and take steps to avoid them in the future. Anyone who believes the Establishment Clause is being violated can contact FFRF and ask it to investigate by email, the post, or via a form on its website.
During my time with FFRF, I was lucky enough to gain valuable, practical experience in narrow legal field that I find both fascinating and feel is essential. One thing I learned early in my internship was that the Establishment Clause is a confusing area for the government actors bound by it. Because there is often no precedent (or very narrow precedent) for a particular church-and-state issue, many government actors I wrote to seemed unsure as to how to respond to a letter charging them with responsibilities stemming from the Establishment Clause. Even government actors that disagreed with FFRF’s interpretation of the law generally wanted to resolve the issue in a way that respected the rights of all individuals, and it was important to advocate for the idea that people that don’t have religious belief have as many rights as people that do. I was also surprised by how frequently those that contacted FFRF to complain about a church-and-state violation asked that their identities not be revealed for fear of reprisal; that fact bolsters my belief that FFRF’s advocacy on behalf of concerned-citizens nationwide is an essential part of ensuring a measure of oversight and enforcement of this often-overlooked constitutional area.
I would like to thank PILP and all the donors that contributed to the PILP fund for the opportunity to travel halfway across the country and experience Establishment Clause legal practice first-hand. I gained practical office experience, ample opportunity to hone my legal writing skills, and was immersed in the niche area of public interest law and was able to work with an organization with decades of specialized experience, in an area that I hope to one day to practice in. Without PILP’s help, I may have decided that the financial strain was too great to take an unpaid internship last summer and would have missed what has become a wonderful learning experience and, I hope, a stepping stone into public interest practice.