Please welcome the newest addition to the American Humanist Association staff, Staff Attorney Katherine Paige!
TheHumanist.com: What is your educational and work background?
I graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Wichita State University (go Shockers!), where I majored in history, political science, and French. During and after undergrad, I worked as a program coordinator at a small nonprofit organization that provided outreach to Kansans struggling with substance abuse disorders. In 2011, I went back to school and received my JD from the William & Mary School of Law in May 2014. After law school I moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where I served as the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s first Legal Fellow from September 2014 through July 2015.
TheHumanist.com: What interested you most about working for the American Humanist Association?
Over the years I have followed the American Humanist Association’s work and have always been impressed by the ever-increasing impact of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. I am a strong advocate of the constitutional separation between church and state and am excited to work for an organization that protects the rights of atheists and nonbelievers from religious imposition. The AHA tackles legal issues that hit particularly close to home, as I have been subject to discrimination for my own atheist views as an adolescent and an adult.
TheHumanist.com: Did you grow up in a particular religious tradition? What was the experience like for you?
I did not. My mom, a self-described atheist who currently attends a Unitarian Universalist church, took my brother and me to a Methodist church when we were children. But the concept of Jesus being “inside me”—an obvious physiological impossibility—just never really caught on. I refused to go by the time I was six or seven, and she never pressed the matter.
For our family, religion was a non-issue until we moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, when I was eleven. I remember telling a friend in seventh grade that I was an atheist and she reacted in shock that I would “worship the devil.” Being a teenage atheist in the Bible Belt was no picnic, and I mostly kept my irreligious views to myself from then on, broaching the subject only at home or with close friends. Many of my friends were closeted atheists too, afraid of being ostracized by our classmates and, for some, by their own families.
I was fortunate not to have that religious tension at home. A few years ago, I asked my mom why she took us to church as kids, and her response was telling: “Because I wanted you to see what normal families did.” I am now a vocal and unabashed atheist, dedicated to ensuring that no one feels pressured to engage in religious activity in order to feel “normal.”
TheHumanist.com: Have you read any good books lately? What’s your favorite book?
I have read so little for pleasure since beginning law school in 2011; mostly I’ve read a lot of cases, journal articles, and nonfiction works on religion, politics, and constitutional issues. In the last year I’ve made an effort to read more literature, however I’m currently listening to Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett on audiobook during my walk to and from work each day. Last month I read and greatly enjoyed The Road by Cormac McCarthy and The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury. I cannot say that I have a “favorite” book.
TheHumanist.com: If you could have dinner with any three people (living or dead), who would they be and why?
#1: Richard Joseph Paige, my dad. He died when I was eleven, and I would give anything to have a conversation with him as an adult. He was a Middle East intelligence analyst who spoke Arabic and French and worked for the CIA in the 1970s and ‘80s—and that’s about the extent of what I have been told. I would love to talk to him about his work—his opinion on the situation in the Middle East would be particularly interesting, as he died before 9/11. But I’m even more curious about his religious views, of which I know nothing.
#2: Stephen Fry. I have been a fan of Fry’s since childhood, having been introduced to him through his character Lord/General Melchett on the British sitcom, Blackadder. I continue to enjoy his work on QI and his spirited debates on religion and policy. His humor, charm, wit, generosity, and empathy make him an obvious atheist idol of mine, and I’m sure he would be a most entertaining dinner companion.
#3: British actor Tom Hardy. Why? Just look at him.