We're proud to announce the winners of the 2019 Americans United Student Essay Contest! High school juniors and seniors were asked to write about what the next generation can do to counter the regressive political agenda that seeks to misuse religious freedom to justify discrimination against the LGBTQ community, women, religious minorities and the nonreligious.


First Place – $1,500

Ranen Miao

Short Hills, N.J.


“[I]n the United States, our freedom is being weaponized to justify discriminatory and harmful policies. My generation must change our understanding of religious freedom, mobilize to enact change, and show up to vote for inclusive policies which can both uphold religious freedom while also defending equality. Fundamentally, my generation must redefine what religious freedom truly is.”

Read Ranen’s essay.

Ranen’s essay was published in the Sept. 2019 issue of AU’s Church & State magazine alongside an article about Ranen’s activism. Read that article here.


Second Place – $1,000

Dustin Daniels

Crossville, Tenn.


“We must remember to hold our lawmakers accountable to these sincerely held principles. In our small actions, we gain knowledge, experience, and power to steer the nation toward justice. The next generation has an advantage to broadcast our voices across the world, to bring change in all levels of the government, and to make this country serve all people, instead of some.”

Read Dustin’s essay.      


Third Place – $500

Isabella Reish

Murfreesboro, Tenn.


“If I had advocated for LGBTQ people from a secular standpoint, my representatives would have shut down. I would have placed a wall between my own ethos and theirs, forever separating our viewpoints. But because I advocated with a religious group, I was making a statement. I was saying to my legislators, ‘As a religious individual, I have my personal political stances, but I do not push these onto people because I care about the First Amendment.’”

Read Isabella’s essay.


Congratulations to our winners, and thank you to all of the entrants