Meet a staffer: FFRF’s McDonald relishes working on the front lines

Joseph McDonald

Name: Joseph F. McDonald

Where and when I was born: Madison, Wis., in 1991.

Education: All from UW-Madison — B.A. in psychology, ’14; B.A. in social welfare, ’14; Global Health Certificate, ’14; Master of Public Health, ’20; Juris Doctor, ’20.

Family: I am the second youngest of six children.

How I came to work at FFRF: I was, and still am, teaching public education and law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison when my mentor let me know that FFRF was hiring a legal fellow.

What I do here: I am the Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow. I primarily have the great privilege of advocating on behalf of members and nonmembers by writing letters to individuals and organizations who have violated the Constitution. I also work on various legal projects in our litigation and legal education teams.

What I like best about it: Not only do I get to advance the things that I believe in, but I also get to advocate for real people. Law school can be an exhaustingly hypothetical playhouse. FFRF’s attorneys, leadership and members make the legal landscape real and I get to be on the frontlines as a legal advocate.

What gets old about it: Working remotely! I know it’s not an inherent part of the job, but it is real, nonetheless. I started with FFRF remotely and I’ve only met a handful of people in-person. I’m excited for the world to get vaccinated so that we can return to the office.

Working from home has been: Exhausting! It’s by far the toughest part of the job. I’m a very person-centered advocate, so when I can’t discuss grievances and gripes in-person with my fellow attorneys, it makes the work all the more difficult.

I spend a lot of time thinking about: Whether I should exercise first or read. It is quite the morning dilemma. I then seem to default to wondering why I got a kitten as she attempts to bite my feet, which is normally how I start my day.

I spend little if any time thinking about: It’s counterintuitive to think about something to then say I don’t think about it. But something I scarcely think about? Harry Belafonte. Yeah, that seems random enough.

My religious upbringing was: I grew up attending a Christian African Methodist Episcopal Zion church. I attended Sunday school and sang in the choir.

My doubts about religion started: Pretty young. I’d say 8 years old. I started to see how people would treat certain folks in the church differently and even tell me not to associate with certain other children. But we were all members of the same church. And, over time, I understood that church was just a social club and religion was the arbitrary social rulebook. By the time I was 13, I realized it had little to do with goodness, but a lot to do with social order and money.

Things I like: Napping in a canoe on the lake in the summer sun.

Things I smite: People who assume their own rightness without ever challenging their own assumptions.

In my golden years: Assuming we’re talking about the crest of life and not the classic David Bowie song, I’d like to spend my time leading students on outdoor retreats.