Student Essay Contest

High school students are invited to write about church-state separation and what they can do to protect it.

AU’s annual essay contest encourages high school students to reflect on why religious freedom and church-state separation are important to them and their communities—and what they can do to ensure religious freedom is a shield that protects the rights of everyone to practice religion according to their own beliefs, or not practice at all, as long as they don’t harm others.

The 2022 contest is now open to submissions

This year’s contest focuses on recent Supreme Court decisions and their impact on the law and on peoples’ lives. The deadline for submission is October 3, 2022.

AU invites high school students who graduate(d) in 2022, 2023, or 2024 to submit a piece of original writing that responds to the topic and meets the criteria below.


How does one or more of the following Supreme Court decisions relate to church-state separation and religious freedom, and how will it affect people and communities in the United States?

  • Kennedy v. Bremerton School District
  • Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization
  • Carson v. Makin

In Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the Supreme Court ruled against the Bremerton School District, which was trying to protect public high school students from a coach who violated their religious freedom by pressuring them to join his public prayers at the 50-yard line at public high school football games. In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Court abolished the constitutional right to abortion. And the decision in Carson v. Makin forces taxpayers to fund religious education.

The First Amendment right to church-state separation is a foundational American principle that ensures everyone is able to live as themselves and believe as they choose, so long as they don’t harm others. Yet the Supreme Court has dealt several blows to religious freedom and equality for all with its decisions this term, overturning decades of established law.

Submissions to this year’s essay contest should answer how one or more of the Supreme Court’s decisions listed above relate to church-state separation and religious freedom, and how it will affect people and communities in the United States. Students are also encouraged to reflect on why this issue matters to them personally, and what more can be done to continue to protect church-state separation and religious freedom in the U.S.

Submissions must be received no later than 11:59PM PT on Monday, October 3.


  • Essay length should be between 750 and 1,000 words.
  • Writing should be clear, creative, and proofread; demonstrate genuine grappling with the topic; and be the student’s original writing.
  • Submissions should make persuasive arguments supported by specific examples and/or cited sources where appropriate.
  • The strongest essays will weave together personal experience/perspective and well-researched information on current laws and events to make a persuasive argument.
  • Essays can reference historical events, legal cases, U.S. history, primary sources, personal experience, and other sources.
  • Students may use their preferred citation or footnote style, but formatting options will be limited in the submission form, and submissions will not be judged on formatting.


The contest is open to members of high school classes of 2022, 2023, and 2024 in the United States including the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories.

Employees and board members of Americans United, and members of their families, are not eligible to participate.


  • First place: $1,500 and essay will be printed on AU’s website and in Church & State magazine
  • Second place: $1,000 and essay will be printed on AU’s website
  • Third Place: $500 and essay will be printed on AU’s website


To enter the contest, complete this form.

Holy Bible Lying on a School Desk

Americans United Demands Louisiana School District Stop Including Religious Content In School-Sponsored Events

No parent should be tricked into signing a permission slip that results in their child attending a religious event.

Read our statement