Name: Colin Edward McNamara
Where and when I was born: May 14, 1991, in Niskayuna, N.Y. As a nerdy kid, I thought it was super-cool that I share a birthday with George Lucas; as a nerdy adult, I think it’s super-cool that I share a birthday with the Constitutional Convention.
Education: Bachelor of Arts degree in creative writing and philosophy from SUNY-Oswego; JD from the University of Richmond.
Family: My mom and dad both live in upstate New York. I have one older sister and three step-sisters.
How I came to work at FFRF: It’s a bit embarrassing, actually. I didn’t find out about the fellowship until two days after the application deadline passed! I was devastated. Believe it or not, there’s not a lot of opportunities to do Establishment Clause legal practice straight out of law school. I told my girlfriend about this great fellowship opportunity that I just missed out on, and she just said, “But you’re going to apply anyway, right?” So I said, “Honey, the deadline’s already passed.” She just stared at me and repeated, slowly, “But you’re going to apply anyway . . . right?” I took the hint. I sent off my resume with an email basically saying, “I know this is late, but I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t at least try.” A few weeks later, I had the gig! Best gamble I’ve ever made.
What I do here: I’m the Robert G. Ingersoll Legal Fellow, which basically means that I’m a lawyer with a really cool title.
What I like best about it: Talking with our complainants. I know as well as anyone that being the village atheist can be isolating, and the people who contact us often feel ostracized in their communities for their nonbelief. It’s good to hear from them, address their problems, and let them know that they’re not alone.
What gets old about it: Having some knucklehead tell me that “separation of church and state is NOT in the Constitution!!!!!” for the millionth time.
I spend a lot of time thinking about: In a perfect world? Life, the universe, and everything. Lately? The constant, looming threat of nuclear holocaust. 2017, amirite?
I spend little if any time thinking about: Football. Don’t get me wrong, I like sports. I just don’t get why everyone obsesses over football so much.
My religious upbringing was: I was brought up in what was ostensibly a Baptist church, but seems to have had more in common with the modern evangelical tradition — the bible is the inerrant word of God, the Earth is 6,000 years old, evolution is a damnable lie from the Pit of Hell . . . all that good stuff.
My doubts about religion started: I struggled with belief almost from the beginning. When I was 9 or 10, a family member that I love and respect asked if I’d ever accepted Jesus as my savior. I said I hadn’t, but that I would like to. We closed our eyes, clasped our hands, prayed together and . . . nothing happened. I realized that I didn’t feel any different. That was when I suspected that this religion business was all a bunch of make-believe. I haven’t seriously looked back since.
Things I like: Reading and writing fiction, playing guitar, being with my girlfriend and our puppy, and devouring irresponsible amounts of sushi. If I could do all four in a 24-hour span, that would be the perfect day.
Things I smite: Olives, country music and authoritarianism. Not necessarily in that order.
In my golden years: I’d like to live out my latter days in a peaceful cabin in the Adirondacks with a good book in one hand, a whiskey snifter in the other, and a shotgun at my side to frighten people who step on my porch.
Is it true that you were recently tear-gassed?: Yeah. I was working for the ACLU of Virginia as a legal observer at a Ku Klux Klan rally in Charlottesville, Va., back in July. The state police popped tear gas canisters on the crowd, so I started backing away to get clear . . . just in time for canister to explode right in front of me. I got a ton of the stuff in my eyes and lungs. Tear gas: 0/5 stars. Do not recommend. Would not try again.