We're proud to announce the winners of the 2020 Americans United Student Essay Contest! High school juniors and seniors were asked to reflect on why religious freedom and the separation of religion and government are important to them, their peers, their families and their communities.



Priya Aggarwal

First-place, $1,500 prize

University High School of Science and Engineering

Bristol, Conn.

“As Americans, we have always had a diverse religious population. However as a result, it has also been the source of discrimination and inequality in our country. For that reason it is crucial that we take steps to protect religious freedom and provide a future where individuals can choose to practice their belief freely and safely. By ensuring initiative today, we provide an equal and just future for tomorrow.”

Read Priya’s essay here. Priya also will be featured in the September 2020 issue of AU’s Church & State magazine – read more about her here!

Olivia Bokesch

Second-place, $1,000 prize

A.C. Flora High School

Columbia, S.C.

“These experiences at my church, school and official meetings opened my eyes to a world where America, the face of religious freedom, was not so free from its Protestant origins after all. I began to understand the flaws in integrating religion into society and politics.”

Read Olivia’s essay here

Olivia Bokesch

Miles King

Miles King

Third-place, $500 prize

Wauwatosa East High School

Milwaukee, Wisc.

“Contrary to the beliefs of Vice President Pence and numerous other lawmakers, the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment don’t solely apply to one religion; they apply to all. Religious freedom is essential in preserving America’s diversity, and we must continue to protect the right of religious minorities to exercise their faith without fear of legal or social repercussions.”

Read Miles’ essay here