Americans United was blown away to receive more than 300 submissions to our Student Essay Contest this year, and we’re excited to announce the winners this week. Regular readers of this blog and longtime supporters will remember that AU’s annual essay contest is one way we encourage young people to reflect on why religious freedom and the separation of religion and government are important to them, their peers, their families and their communities.
Among the 301 high school juniors and seniors who entered the 2020 contest were students diverse in race, religion, gender and sexual orientation; they came from across the country, including 46 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.
The essays included personal experiences, historical research, policy analysis and more. We received essay submissions from students experiencing church-state violations in their schools and communities; students who have been harmed by the Christian nationalist agenda or have seen their families and neighbors harmed and are pushing back; and students who share a vision for true religious freedom in this country where all people have the freedom to practice their faith or none.
The AU team read meticulously through these thoughtful and well-written submissions throughout the spring. We first narrowed the submissions down to 15 finalists, then a panel of youth leaders and staff from across the organization read, discussed and chose the three winners from among the finalists.
It was difficult to choose just three winners, but we think you’ll agree that the prize-winning essays are passionately written and well-researched and that they articulate a clear vision for how we can and must ensure true religious freedom for future generations.
First place was awarded to Priya Aggarwal, who attended University High School of Science and Engineering in Bristol, Conn. She received a scholarship prize of $1,500. Olivia Bokesch, who attends A.C. Flora High School in Columbia, S.C., won second place and received $1,000. The third-place winner was Miles King of Milwaukee, who attended Wauwatosa East High School. He was awarded $500.
Keep visiting au.org or our social media channels @americansunited over the next three days as we publish the winning essays. (In addition, Priya's first-place essay will appear in the September issue of AU’s Church & State magazine.) Be sure to share them with your networks to help us amplify the voices of the youngest generation fighting for church-state separation.
Photo: From left to right, Priya Aggarwal, Olivia Bokesch and Miles King.