Religious Minorities

Announcing AU’s 2022 Student Essay Contest Winners – What Last Year’s Supreme Court Term Means To Young People

  Alicia Johnson

The last Supreme Court term was a particularly difficult one for defenders of church-state separation and all of us who believe in a country where people are able to live as themselves and believe as they choose. Three cases in particular – Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and Carson v. Makin – had significant repercussions for church-state separation. That’s why in our annual Student Essay Contest, we invited students to reflect on how one or more of these cases relate to church-state separation and religious freedom and how it will affect people and communities all over America.

AU received almost 200 submissions to the 2022 Student Essay Contest from young people across the country, and I’m excited to announce the four who were selected as prize winners. They each wrote from their unique perspectives on the importance of one or more of these Supreme Court cases and made powerful arguments in favor of separation of church and state.

Ashleen Girn, a student from Springfield, Mo., who wrote about the Bremerton and Carson rulings and the importance of inclusive, secular schools, won first prize. In her essay, she wrote, “Having a supportive community is very empowering, but I believe my religious freedom is compromised because certain religions and their values have more importance in communities now because the distinction between church and state is more unclear with recent court rulings.”

Second place was awarded to Ira Sharma of Memphis, Tenn. Sharma is a student athlete who has seen church-state violations in school firsthand and wrote about the impact of the Bremerton decision.

Third-place prizes were awarded to two students this year. Sally Geoghegan of Wilbraham, Mass., wrote about Dobbs’ impact on teens and shared interesting research on the history of religious activism for abortion rights as well abortion access in Poland, which is a useful “case study for the effects of abortion bans on citizens.”

The other third-place winner is Wassila Mehimda of Revere, Mass., a Muslim student who wrote about Dobbs and religious freedom. “As Americans, it is crucial we remind ourselves of the safety that separation of church and state suggests; for a nation dominated by the religious morals of a powerful few is no longer a democracy, but instead an encroaching theocracy,” wrote Mehimda.

We’ll be sharing the winning essays on “The Wall of Separation” this week, starting with Girn’s first-place essay tomorrow. And stay tuned for more information later this month about the launch of our 2023 contest!

AU’s annual student contest is one way we encourage young people to reflect on why religious freedom and church-state separation are important to them, their peers, their families and their communities. The contest winners received prizes of $500-1,500 and have their essays published on our website; the first-place essay also is published in our Church & State magazine.

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