Scholarship Contest

The annual Religious Liberty Scholarship Contest engages high school students in church-state issues by directing them to express a point of view on a religious liberty topic.

The submission period for the 2024 contest has now closed. Return to this page later this year to learn about the winners.

Entries are judged on the depth of their content, mastery of the topic and the skill with which they are produced. Read our press release here.

“I entered because it seemed like a very special type of scholarship. Most are more about what you are going to do with the money and more basic questions. This one asked something that sort of related to me, and I felt like I could share my voice and opinion.”

Yusra Ahmed
2017 Essay Contest Winner

2023 Winners

Religious Liberty Essay Contest

Grand prize winner:
Madilynn Hickman
Colbert, Washington

Essay title: “The Sacred Places”

Read more

In her winning essay, Hickman told the powerful story of the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, a sovereign tribal nation whose sacred places have been desecrated by industrial development. “We have seen what happened to the Snoqualmie Tribe and how an ignorance of cherished religious rights has infringed on their spiritual liberties,” she wrote.

Hickman also urged her representative to preserve and protect the sacred places of all Indigenous people. “If we are to uphold America’s value for personal religion, we cannot allow an entire nation’s sacred places to be plowed over.”

Religious Liberty Essay Contest

2nd prize:

Frances Hudson
Frederick, Colorado

Essay title: “Religious Freedom: The First Amendment Applies to All”

Religious Liberty Essay Contest

3rd prize:

Viktor James Povozhaev
Willoughby Hills, Ohio

Essay Title:  “Preserving Sacred Land: A Moral Imperative for Protecting the Beliefs of Indigenous Peoples”

Previous Contest Winners
Religious Liberty Essay Contest

“Religion is important for people both in life and in death, so giving prisoners the peace they need at the end of their life is a basic freedom that I believe the Founding Fathers would have understood. … The United States has worked hard to ensure our rights are protected. If our nation has fought and died for us to live with our rights, why should we not let prisoners die with their rights as well?”

Bethany Crist / 2022 Grand Prize

Religious Liberty Essay Contest
“The clergy/candidate should also stress the fact that they consider their obligations to the elected office and to the constituents to be extremely important. These multiple obligations are not mutually exclusive and are very much like the multiple obligations that many candidates have to their family, their workplace, and the elected office.”
Grace C. Karanick / 2021 Grand Prize
Religious Liberty Essay Contest
“The word ‘we’ in ‘In God We Trust’ implicates all members of the school. A student’s logical conclusion when adults post such a message is that they must participate in this mutual faith in God to remain in their community, a reasonable feeling of coercion. … If students don’t ‘shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,’ why should they lose their freedom of religion?”
Lorelei Loraine / 2020 Grand Prize
Religious Liberty Essay Contest
“To keep the political process in the United States as effective as possible, it is vital that the Johnson Amendment be protected in American law. As religious leaders promote the idea that politics and partisanship are not the same, it is my hope that young people become inspired to get involved in the political process …”
Natalia Barber / 2019 Grand Prize
Religious Liberty Essay Contest
“I like political science…. I also really like writing, so this essay contest is just perfect, tying everything that I like together…. I think it’s really wonderful that the Baptist tradition has a long history of supporting religious liberty and church-state separation…”
Lauralyn Lin / 2018 Grand Prize
Religious Liberty Essay Contest
“A religious test whose result determines eligibility for immigrants and refugees places irrational fear over compassion, the very same irrational fear I faced that day when I wore the hijab out with my sisters.”
Yusra Ahmed / 2017 Grand Prize
Religious Liberty Essay Contest
“One specific topic that is currently in the headlines is the right of government officials to opt out of certain job duties when those job duties conflict with their religious beliefs.”
Alyssa Bragg / 2016 Grand Prize
Religious Liberty Essay Contest
“Balance is key to keeping our country a free society: between private practices and public interaction, between private business and individual rights.”
Zoe Almeida / 2015 Grand Prize