Since 2016, hundreds of students have written essays about the importance of church-state separation for Americans United’s annual Student Essay Contest, including more than 600 students from nearly every state in the country in 2018 alone. The essays have illustrated that church-state separation is a salient issue for young people today, and they have showed how students in the United States play an important role in protecting peers who face discrimination due to their religious beliefs or the religious beliefs of others.
Our past winners experienced religious discrimination themselves or saw how it affected others and they wrote how they care deeply about the need for all people to have religious freedom. For instance, the 2018 winners wrote about how the Trump administration’s Muslim ban spurred religious discrimination and about the official promotion of religion in public schools.
This year, we’re asking students to write essays that address the following topic:
The Religious Right is increasing its efforts to use religion as a sword to harm others rather than as a shield to protect people. This regressive political agenda seeks to misuse religious freedom to justify discrimination against the LGBTQ community, women, religious minorities and the nonreligious. What can the next generation do to counter these attacks and take action to protect the real meaning of religious freedom and prevent our country from moving backward?
Some of the ways in which we currently see religion being used to harm others include:
- Policies that allow taxpayer-funded foster care and adoption agencies to reject prospective parents and volunteers because they are LGBTQ or the “wrong” religion.
- Legislative efforts to promote Christianity in public schools by posting “In God We Trust” in schools or establishing Bible classes.
- Policies that would allow health care workers to deny care to patients based on religious or moral objections, and would allow employers and universities to use religion to deny employees and students access to birth control.
In their essays, students can reference current events, U.S. history, primary sources, personal experiences and information from AU.org and our Protect Thy Neighbor campaign website.
Criteria for submissions include:
- The length should be between 750 and 1,000 words.
- Essays should be well-written, well-researched and should be the student’s original writing, supported by specific examples and/or sources.
- The contest is open to high school juniors and seniors in the United States.
- The deadline for submissions is May 1, 2019.
The first-place winner will receive a $1,500 prize; $1,000 will go to the second-place winner, and $500 to third place. The winning essay also will be reprinted in AU’s monthly Church & State magazine.
We look forward to receiving hundreds of submissions this year in celebration of the movement among students in the United States who are committed to the principle that all people should have the freedom to believe how they want so long as that belief is not used as a means to hurt or discriminate against others.
Learn more about the contest and submit your essays at austudents.org/essaycontest.