This spring, Americans United for Separation of Church and State was lucky to have two great interns helping us protect religious freedom: Nancy Garrett in our Field Department and Devon Schmidt in our Legal Department. Since their internships are now coming to an end, they shared a bit about themselves and the highlights of their work at AU.
About me: I was born and raised in Charlotte, N.C., where I cultivated a healthy love of barbecue and politics. I’m currently a sophomore at Georgetown University, majoring in government with a concentration in American politics and minors in economics and German. The majority of my work experience so far has been in literacy promotion in underserved communities at home, and I’m looking toward civil liberties advocacy work and law school in the future. But in the short term, I will be spending the summer working for Dan McCready’s congressional campaign in North Carolina. And lately I have really enjoyed writing review pieces for the leisure section of The Georgetown Voice student newspaper, especially about new exhibits at my favorite museum, the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
Stuff you won’t find on my resume: I can juggle four balls at once and do tricks. And, like many other AU staffers, I aggressively love my Goldendoodle Dolly.
Why did you want to intern at AU? In large part I was motivated by my commitment to church-state separation. Not only could I follow one of my political passions at AU, but also I had the opportunity to learn so much from the organization, especially since it has been fighting for separation of church and state for so long. Beyond that, I really valued the specificity of AU’s mission – uphold church-state separation – and the fact that the organization attacks it from every angle: in the field through our chapters, legislatively and legally. All of these things made me feel like a semester at AU would be not only teach me a great deal about advocacy through a nonprofit, but would allow me to contribute in a significant way to an issue I care about.
What was the most rewarding or memorable experience(s) from your time at AU? Workwise, I really enjoyed working on our Interfaith Discussion Series, which is a running intern project. Assembling readings and resources for this project allowed me to really dig in to AU’s issue base and explore some of the deeper implications of First Amendment rights. I think sometimes when you work on an issue like separation of church and state day in and day out, the logistics and daily tasks may take you away from the subject matter itself. This project grounded me in many ways, reminding me that all the other work I did – even the administrative tasks – was working to promote an ideal that is historically, culturally, and religiously essential to our democracy.
In terms of the overall experience, I really enjoyed working with the Field Department. Erin Hagen, Bill Mefford and David Morris were such a great team to work with and learn from, as well as all the rest of the AU staff! They were so welcoming and helpful, and always ready to laugh.
If you had the opportunity to talk about religious freedom with one notable figure, past or present, who would it be and what would you ask him or her? I would like to talk to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. about religious freedom. Because he incorporated so many religious ideals into his activism and fought for equality through those ideals, I would ask him about the best ways to mobilize religious communities to support religious freedom (though not in the religious refusal way). Though there are already religious communities doing so, I think MLK might have some fascinating ideas on how to address the disconnect in conservative Christian communities between promoting Christian ideals and protecting minority religions and other at-risk groups.
About me: I’m from a small town outside of Philadelphia. I’m currently studying international economics and French at Georgetown University. At Georgetown, I’m a guide for our outdoors club, a member of the rock-climbing team and I’ve dabbled in writing for one of the student publications. In the past I have interned for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and I will be working for People For the American Way this summer.
Stuff you won’t find on my resume: I’m a twin, I once ate a ghost pepper and the coolest place I’ve traveled to is the Philippines.
Why did you want to intern at AU? I learned about the intersection of religion and government in my classes and I heard about AU from studying some landmark Supreme Court cases. I was really interested in seeing what the legal process looked like, and I wanted to work on an issue that is interesting and important.
What was the most rewarding or memorable experience(s) from your time at AU? The most rewarding part of my experience has been learning about the ins and outs of the legal process and how much behind-the-scenes work there is outside of the courtroom. I’ve especially enjoyed sitting in on meetings where we discuss strategy for how to move forward with a case and how to create effective messaging around the issue.
If you had the opportunity to talk about religious freedom with one notable figure, past or present, who would it be and what would you ask him or her? I would want to talk to Thomas Jefferson and I would ask him about his opinion on the condition of church-state separation today, especially about the emergence of the Religious Right and their impact on policy and society.
If you’re a college student who’s interested in interning at Americans United, you can learn more here.