Please welcome the AHA’s new Communications Intern, Owen Rothschild!
TheHumanist.com: What is your educational and work background?
I am a student of political science at the George Washington University in Washington, DC. Prior to moving to DC, I served as associate director at the Lauren Savoy Olinde Foundation (LSO), a small Louisiana nonprofit, which raised awareness of melanoma. In 2016 the executive director of the LSO and I presented a bill to the Louisiana legislature which would allow Louisiana students to bring and apply sunscreen at school without a physician’s note. The bill was signed into law by Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards. After moving to the nation’s capital, I served as an intern in the House of Representatives for the 115th Congress and as a staffer for former US Senator Mary Landrieu’s 2014 reelection campaign.
TheHumanist.com: How did you first learn about humanism?
As I spent most of my childhood in Louisiana, humanism was not a commonly discussed philosophy. I first learned about humanism from a close friend, mentor, and fellow native Louisianan, Margaret Downey of The Freethought Society. After Margaret and I met at Louisiana’s Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge around seven years ago, I began to subscribe to her monthly newsletter and expanded my understanding of the nonreligious community.
TheHumanist.com: Did you grow up in a traditional religious faith? How did it impact you?
I grew up with an Irish Catholic mother and Jewish father. Despite having a Catholic education, I always took my father’s side when it came to his criticisms of the dogma taught by the church. My parents instilled in me that I was always to treat others the way I would want to be treated. During my junior high years, I was given a detention for arguing with my religion teacher over the topic: Can one be nonreligious and a good person? My teacher believed the two were mutually exclusive, but I would not concede the point and refused to apologize to my teacher and peers the next day for “being combative and insubordinate.” Thankfully, my parents supported my decision to not offer an apology. There was no amount of detention that would have convinced me to concede to a belief I knew was incorrect and bigoted.
TheHumanist.com: What interested you most about working for the American Humanist Association?
I joined the American Humanist Association because I feel passionately about the need for the United States to have a barrier between church and state. Though the Establishment Clause is found in the First Amendment, many of the politicians who swore to protect and defend the Constitution are unwilling to honor the Establishment Clause due to personal bias or worries over reelection campaigns. I understand the American Humanist Association is on the front line when it comes to defending the separation of church and state.
TheHumanist.com: What book has influenced you the most?
Having grown up in a diverse, though not inclusive, Southern state, I saw injustice, bigotry, and hatred en mass and was greatly influenced by Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch’s trials and tribulations as a civil rights attorney in Alabama during the Great Depression spoke to me. Because of Atticus’s profession, his family became pariahs in their town, yet Finch taught his children the importance of inclusion despite the repercussions. As a member of the LGBT community, I have experienced firsthand the impacts and implications of intolerance and ignorance. A key factor in my decision to dedicate my life to public service was to be an advocate for society’s marginalized.
TheHumanist.com: If you could have dinner with any three people in the world (living or dead), who would they be and why?
Nelson Mandela, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. I would like to ask Mandela about his guiding philosophy for creating a complete transformation in the way a system works. I would ask Murray O’Hair why she was willing to give up her entire life for a cause that was considered beyond taboo. And my question for Kennedy Onassis would be about how she managed to keep her composure in the face of such adversity and tragedy.