American flag waving in blue sky

From BJC Staff Reports

An essay debunking the myth that the United States was founded as a “Christian nation” is the winner of the 2013 Religious Liberty Essay Scholarship Contest, sponsored by the Religious Liberty Council of the Baptist Joint Committee.

This year’s essay topic asked students to examine religious diversity in America and evaluate claims made about the country’s founding. More than 430 high school juniors and seniors from 46 states — as well as students from China and Sweden — submitted entries.

The grand prize winner is Christian Belanger of Wallingford, Pa. His essay, titled “Christianity and the Founding Fathers: Exploring America’s Purported Religious Origins,” examined the Constitution and the archival writings of the Founding Fathers to come to his conclusion. The essay also explored the dangers of misinterpreting the country’s religious origin.

As the grand prize winner, Belanger receives a $2,000 scholarship and a trip to Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the Baptist Joint Committee board meeting in October. The son of Gitte and Kenneth Belanger, he is a 2013 graduate of Strath Haven High School and attends the University of Chicago.

Kourtney Kostecki of St. Peters, Mo., earned the second place prize of a $1,000 scholarship for her essay, titled “Not Foundation, Influence.” She examined the religious backgrounds of the Founders and discovered evidence of Christian influence rather than official Christian foundation in American government. The daughter of Karin and Kurt Kostecki, she is a 2013 graduate of St. Joseph’s Academy and attends Iowa State University.

The third place winner is Katie Hillery of Placentia, Calif., who receives a $250 scholarship for her essay titled “Religious Refuge or Christian Country: The Role of Religion in the Founding of the American Republic.” She pointed out that the establishment of the United States was unique because it was founded not on religious dogma but religious liberty. Katie is the daughter of Colleen and Matt Hillery, and she is a home-schooled student who will graduate in the spring of 2014.

The winning essays are available on the Baptist Joint Committee website as downloadable Word documents. More information about the top essay will be in next month’s Report from the Capital.

Details for the 2014 Religious Liberty Essay Scholarship Contest are scheduled to be released in the coming months.

From the September 2013 Report from the Capital. Click here for the next article.