We are now accepting entries for the 2023 contest! Scroll down for the topic and details.
Essays are judged on the depth of their content, mastery of the topic and the skill with which they are written.
“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.”
2017 Essay Contest Winner
2023 Essay Topic
Religions and cultures have places that are “sacred” to their traditions. For Indigenous peoples, specific land – which cannot be moved or replaced – is often sacred. In religious liberty law, there are some explicit legal protections specifically for buildings used for religious purposes (e.g. Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and the Church Arson Prevention Act), but often our laws struggle to protect natural sanctuaries.
Using a controversy over Indigenous sacred land – such as the fight over the land known as “Oak Flat” – write an essay in the form of a letter addressed to your member of the House of Representatives about the importance of protecting sacred land.
Your essay should include a discussion of why you support preserving sacred land, what makes land “sacred,” how we should consider competing interests, and applicable federal law such as the First Amendment, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.
The contest is open to all high school students in the graduating classes of 2023 and 2024. There are no requirements regarding GPA, faith, after-school activities or clubs. Click here to read the full rules and details.
Grand Prize: $2,000 and a trip for two to Washington, D.C.
Second Prize: $1,000; Third Prize: $500
Submission & Due Date
Students with a Google Account can fill out this Google Form with essays (800-1200 words) uploaded within the form. If students do not have a Google Account, click here to access a fillable PDF form with instructions. Submissions must be completed no later than March 17, 2023.
Entries will be judged on the depth of their content, the mastery of the topic and the skill with which they are written. The student should develop a point of view on the issue and demonstrate critical thinking, using appropriate examples, arguments and other evidence to support their position. Essays should be free of grammatical errors and should be clear, concise and well-organized. Judges reserve the right to reduce the number of winners.
- Submitted essays should be in 12-point type, double-spaced. To ensure fairness, your name (or any other identifying info) should not appear on any page.
- Essays must have a title at the top of the first page of the essay (do not use a title page).
- Essays must be between 800-1,200 words, not counting the title and bibliography.
- Sources must be used, cited and credited in a bibliography, consistent with an accepted citation style. Wikipedia may not be used as a source.
Essays failing to meet the requirements will not be judged. All essays become property of BJC.
Winners will be announced by the end of summer 2023. The first-place winner will be recognized at the meeting of the BJC Board in October 2023. Entrants will hear from BJC by email after the winners are selected. For a complete list of rules, details and prizes, click here.
If you have questions, contact [email protected].
Bethany A. Crist
Essay title: “Freedom in Both Life and Death”
In her essay titled “Freedom in Both Life and Death,” Bethany reviewed the First Amendment protections and the standards of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, applying them to recent cases to illustrate how prisoners do not lose their right to religious exercise absent a compelling governmental interest.
“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?”
Essay title: “Defending the Condemned”
Caleb Asher McWhorter
Essay Title: “The Transition Between the Living and the Dead”