Student Contest

AU’s annual contest encourages 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 2023 contest is now open!

AU is excited to announce our NEW student contest with cash prizes! What's new? We now accept essays and video submissions from high school and college students!

Students, submit a piece of original writing or an original video that responds to the topic and meets the criteria below. Separate cash prizes will be awarded to both high school winners and college winners. Essay submissions are due May 8 and video submissions are due by June 5th.

Topic: What’s your vision for church-state separation?

At Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), we envision a nation where we are all free to believe or not believe as we choose, where our laws don’t allow anyone to use their beliefs to harm others, and where we can come together as equals to build a stronger democracy.

What is your vision for church-state separation? What would happen if we secured separation of church and state in the United States, and all people were able to live as themselves and believe as they choose? Students are invited to write a short essay or create a short video sharing that vision.

Tips for your submission:

  • The strongest submissions will weave together personal experience/perspective and well-researched information.
  • Submissions might describe what your future (or the future of people you care about) might hold, or what your communities would look and feel like – including your family, school, or neighborhood.
  • Submissions can include researched factual information, personal narrative, or a combination; or be fictional.
  • Submissions can reference historical events, legal cases, U.S. history, primary sources, personal experience, and other sources.
  • Creativity is encouraged!

Who Can Participate

The contest is open to high school students and undergraduate students attending any 2- or 4-year college or university including trade & technical schools. Students must live 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.

Participants can submit either an essay or a video, not both. Students are only eligible for one prize.


Submissions will be judged on creativity and adherence to the topic above and additional criteria below. Essay submissions must be received by 11:59PM PT on Monday, May 8th, and video submissions must be received by 11:59PM PT on Monday, June 5th.


  • 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.
  • Students should fact check their writing and include citations when needed. Any form of citation or footnote is accepted.
  • Note that formatting options will be limited in the submission form, and submissions will not be judged on formatting. But spelling, punctuation, and grammar do count.


  • Videos can be recorded on your phone or any kind of camera.
  • No experience or expertise is needed; videos can be as simple as talking into the camera, or more elaborate such as animated, documentary-style, fictional narrative, recording of performances such as music or poetry, or something else.
  • Length must be between 2-4 minutes.
  • Landscape (16:9) or portrait (9:16)
  • Videos can be sent as a YouTube Video Set as Unlisted, Audience set as “Not Made for Kids.” Music for YouTube must be public domain or it will be automatically removed from YouTube during their upload/review process.
  • Videos can also be sent via Vimeo, Google Drive, Dropbox or OneDrive links.

Cash Prizes

First Place

  • $1,500 for high school essay winner
  • $1,500 for high school video winner
  • $1,500 for college essay winner
  • $1,500 for college video winner

Second Place

  • $1,000 for high school essay winner
  • $1,000 for high school video winner
  • $1,000 for college essay winner
  • $1,000 for college video winner

Third Place

  • $500 for high school essay winner
  • $500 for high school video winner
  • $500 for college essay winner
  • $500 for college video winner

The first place essays will be printed in Church and State magazine. All the winning essays will be published on AU’s website.

All the winning videos will be published on AU’s digital media channels including but not limited to the website, YouTube, and TikTok.

How to Enter

Click here to submit your application

Submissions must be received by 11:59 PM PT on Monday, May 8.

If you have any questions after reading this page, please contact Alicia Johnson, AU’s Student Network Manager, at [email protected].

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Take action

We’re pledging to keep church and state separate. Join us.

Church-state separation is the foundation of religious freedom in the United States, protecting many of our most fundamental rights: LGBTQ equality, reproductive freedom, inclusive public education, and more. Now, those freedoms are under threat. Join our movement and pledge to uphold church-state separation.