Our country is a society built on freedom . While all our freedoms are spectacular, I believe that the greatest of them is freedom of religion. As stated in the first Amendment to the United States Constitution, freedom of religion prevents our govenunent from forcing citizens to practice any single kind of religion. Thanks to this wonderful Amendment, all sorts of religious practices have taken root and spread in our beloved country, from Catholicism to Hinduism . In fact, as reported in the New York Times and Staten Island Advance, my local newspapers, the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, proclaimed his interpretation of our Amendment in his recent Philadelphia speech, fittingly delivered near Independence Hall. We witnessed history unfold before our eyes, as the Pope moved people with his words, announcing that religious freedom is a "fundamental right" for all citizens. Freedom of religion definitely makes the lives of citizens of the United States better. As a citizen myself, I can say with resounding truth that freedom of religion has made life on Staten Island better. No person has to worry about being punished wrongly or being ridiculed for his or her beliefs. For instance, I can freely attend a Catholic school and Sunday mass. One of my mother's closest friends is Jewish, but my family is Catholic. Thanks to freedom of religion, we can be very close with one another (I even refer to her as my "aunt"), despite the fact that we celebrate different holidays and believe different things. Most importantly, religious freedom means respecting the beliefs of others, and, in the words of Pope Francis, renouncing the use of "religion ... for hatred and brutality". All in all, religious freedom is a special privilege; it should bring all people together and encourage "peace, tolerance, and respect".
Religious Liberty Essay Scholarship Contest
Students can win up to $2,000 for college by writing an essay discussing whether public school calendars should accommodate religious holidays in the 2018 Religious Liberty Essay Scholarship Contest. To enter, students must write an 800-1,200 word essay responding to the following prompt:
In most public high schools, certain days are marked as religious holidays on the school calendar, and the schools are closed on those days. As public schools become more diverse, some students’ religious holy day(s) are not days that the schools are closed, resulting in absences for those students.
In an essay, discuss whether public school calendars should accommodate religious holidays.
Consider how school administrators should determine if, or which, religious holy days are included in the school calendar, or if any school policies should be changed to better accommodate students’ religious exercise. Be sure your essay identifies how the First Amendment supports your position.
Click here to download and print the 2018 Religious Liberty Essay Scholarship Contest entry forms
Students should develop a point of view, demonstrate critical thinking and use appropriate examples, arguments and other evidence to support their position. Any high school student graduating in 2018 or 2019 is eligible to enter the contest. There is no religious requirement. Entries must be mailed and postmarked by March 9, 2018.
The grand prize is a $2,000 scholarship and a trip for two to Washington, D.C. Prizes of $1,000 for the second place winner and $500 for the third place winner are also available. Winners will be announced by the end of summer 2018.
The annual 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.
For questions on the 2018 essay contest, read these FAQs or contact Charles Watson Jr. at cwatson@BJConline.org or call 202-544-4226.