Church, State & Society Fellows Reflect on Rewarding Summer Experiences

Author: Denise Wager

Samantha Scheuler spent her summer at the Office of the General Counsel at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to gain a better understanding of the legal issues that can arise for a religious institution and how law and religion intersect in society.

She also came to a better understanding of her faith.

“I not only gained an understanding of the scope and significance of the constitutional freedom to exercise one’s religion, I also discovered that I now have a renewed appreciation for my own Catholic faith and I am practicing my faith with more conviction,” Scheuler said.

Scheuler and Kristina Semeryuk each spent their 1L summer working at two different religious institutions.

The Program on Church, State & Society awarded $10,000 to each student to work in a legal capacity at a religious institution, said Richard Garnett, Paul J. Schierl/Fort Howard Corporation Professor of Law and Director of the Program.  

“The summer fellowship is one of the many ways the Notre Dame Program on Church, State & Society seeks to educate young lawyers about the relationship between law and religion,” Garnett said.  

Scheuler developed a deeper appreciation for the breadth of services religious institutions provide to the public, as well as a greater understanding of the implications that government action has for these institutions, she said.

“I got to wrestle with some of the most complicated constitutional issues emerging in our society,” Scheuler said. “Most importantly, my 10 weeks with USCCB left me with a better idea of what my vocation in the legal profession might entail. As a young attorney and throughout my profession, I hope to find opportunities to incorporate religious institutions practice into my career in litigation; whether I offer pro bono legal services to my local diocese, actively seek religiously-affiliated clients, or join a practice exclusively representing religious institutions.”

Semeryuk was able to see how law and religion intersect through a slightly different lens — at a single, local religious institution.

Her fellowship was at Bryte Church, a Russian Baptist Church in West Sacramento, California. Bryte Church has more than 2,000 members.  The majority of its members are immigrants or first-generation children, a fact that created unique opportunities, she said.

She spent time working with bylaws that had been translated from Russian to English, locating nearby attorneys willing to work with Russian-speaking members, and helping members with custody and immigration issues.

“My favorite part of the fellowship was helping members, who were in difficult positions, and who came to the church for assistance,” Semeryuk said. “This experience allowed me to go back to my community and help the organization in a way that I would not have been able to do without my Law School training.”  

As part of the NDLS’s commitment to educate a “different kind of lawyer,” the Program on Church, State & Society promotes experiences, workshops, and other programs to generate dialogue and legal scholarship on the effects that the relationship between law and religion has on both society and individuals, Garnett said.

Originally published churchstate.nd.edu