Religious Liberty Essay Scholarship Contest

jefferson for essay contest

Each year, the Religious Liberty Essay Scholarship Contest engages high school students in church-state issues by directing them to express a point of view on a religious liberty topic. Essays are judged on the depth of their content, the mastery of the topic, and the skill with which they are written. Students should develop a point of view on the issue and demonstrate critical thinking, using appropriate examples, reasons and other evidence to support their position. The annual contest is sponsored by the Religious Liberty Council of the Baptist Joint Committee. The grand prize is $2,000 and a trip for two to Washington, D.C. Second prize is $1,000, and third prize is $250.

Details for the 2017 Religious Liberty Essay Contest will be released later this fall.


2016 Contest Winners

For the 2016 Contest, students were asked to consider whether an elected or appointed official should be able to opt out of certain required duties, such as issuing a gun license, due to a closely held religious belief. Entries should have also touched on how far the government should go to accommodate those beliefs. The winning essay will be available to read on this page soon.


An Introduction to the BJC

Grand Prize

Alyssa Bragg
Fort Collins, Colorado
“Duty Comes First”

Second Prize

Haley Warren
Charlottesville, Virginia
“Handholds on the Long Climb:
Love, Licenses, and Liberty”

Third Prize

Ellie Gardiner
Bernalillo, New Mexico
“Religious Freedom in
Government Positions:
The Free Exercise Thereof”

2015 Contest Results

An essay exploring accommodation for religious garb at a popular clothing retailer is the winner of the 2015 Religious Liberty Essay Scholarship Contest, sponsored by the Religious Liberty Council of the Baptist Joint Committee.

This 2015 topic asked students to discuss if an employer should be able to dictate an employee’s attire. Students could use the situation in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch, in which a Muslim woman was not hired because of her religiously mandated headscarf.

Almost 500 students from 44 states and the District of Columbia entered the contest, as well as students from Italy and Puerto Rico.

The 2015 grand prize winner is Zoe Almeida of San Antonio, Texas. In her essay, titled “Balancing Act: On Compromise Between Businesses and Workers,” Almeida argued that the burden of Abercrombie to accommodate the wearing of a headscarf was not “undue hardship.” She also acknowledged the vagueness of the accommodation law and wrote, “Balance is key to keeping our country a free society: between private practices and public interaction, between private business and individual rights.”

She received a $2,000 scholarship and a trip to Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the BJC board meeting. Almeida is a senior at Antonian College Preparatory High School and attends Blessed Sacrament Church in San Antonio.

The second place winner is Cassie Froese of Savage, Minnesota, and the third place winner is Meghan Cahill of Louisville, Ohio. 

Click here to read about the winning essays.



Watch Previous Winners Read Their Essays





Recent Winners

Grand prize: Zoe Almeida
Second place: Cassie Froese
Third place: Meghan Cahill

Grand prize: Daniel Ingham
Second prize: Sienna Li
Third prize: Cathy Hsu

Grand prize: Christian Belanger
Second place: Kourtney Kostecki
Third place: Katie Hillery

Grand prize: Scott Remer
Second place: Michael Aitchison
Third place: Katelyn Harrop