VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 12/16/13)—American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) encourages entries to the 2014 Religious Liberty Essay Scholarship Contest, sponsored by the Religious Liberty Council of the Baptist Joint Committee (BJC). High school juniors and seniors can win up to $2,000 for college. Essays must tackle the topic of whether religious references should be allowed on banners at school-sponsored events, such as cheerleaders’ banners on the field at public school football games.
Each year, the contest engages high school students in church-state issues by directing them to express a point of view on a religious liberty topic. The grand prize is $2,000 and airfare and lodging for two to Washington, D.C. Second prize is $1,000, and third prize is $250.
High school students in the graduating classes of 2014 and 2015 can enter the contest by writing an essay between 800-1,200 words addressing the following:
In many public high schools, cheerleaders and other students display banners for student athletes to run through at football games. In some schools, the messages on the banners have included Bible verses or other religious references. In response, some high school administrators have banned the use of these “run-through” banners out of concern these messages might convey that the school is promoting religion. In several instances, students have argued that the banners are expressions of their personal religious beliefs, asserting that they have the free exercise right to display religious messages at school events.
Should religious references be permitted on student banners used at school-sponsored events? Why or why not?
Write an essay in which you discuss both the students’ rights and the school administrators’ responsibilities in the public school setting. In order to support your point of view, articulate your understanding of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause in the First Amendment and their relationship to each other. Discuss what you believe is the best solution to the controversy over school banners with religious messages. Be sure to explain how your outcome helps to defend and extend religious liberty for all people.
“Our topic for 2014 provides high school students an opportunity to reflect on their personal rights to religious expression in a public school setting,” says the BJC’s Charles Watson Jr. “We hope students will take up the challenge of researching and writing about this religious liberty issue.”
Entries must be mailed and postmarked by March 7, 2014, to be eligible. Click here to download contest forms and complete details.
Winners will be announced in the summer of 2014, and the grand prize winner will be recognized at the BJC board meeting in Washington, D.C., in October 2014.
Essays will be 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 Baptist Joint Committee is a 77-year-old, Washington, D.C.-based religious liberty organization that works to defend and extend God-given religious liberty for all, bringing a uniquely Baptist witness to the principle that religion must be freely exercised, neither advanced nor inhibited by government.
American Baptist Home Mission Societies—the domestic mission arm of American Baptist Churches USA—ministers as the caring heart and serving hands of Jesus Christ across the United States and Puerto Rico through a multitude of initiatives that focus on discipleship, community and justice.
American Baptist Churches is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with over 5,200 local congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.