Essay Contest

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, mastery of the topic and the skill with which they are written. 

The 2022 contest is open now. See below for this year’s topic and more details, and scroll down to see our 2021 winners.

“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

Current Topic

2022 Essay Topic

Religious freedom for prisoners in the United States is protected through the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).  Subject to safety and security concerns, prisoners may engage in various religious practices during their incarceration. Sometimes prisoners on death row ask for a spiritual adviser to be present in the execution chamber before the government puts them to death.

In an essay using the First Amendment and RLUIPA, discuss whether prisoners should have the right to have a religious adviser present in the execution chamber and what, if any, final religious practices a prisoner should be able to request.


The contest is open to all high school students in the graduating classes of 2022 and 2023. There are no requirements regarding GPA, faith, after-school activities or clubs.


Grand Prize: $2,000

Second Prize: $1,000; Third Prize: $500

Submission & Due Date

Students must fill out this Google Form with essays (800-1200 words) uploaded within the form (further submission instructions, including an alternate method of submission for those without Google accounts, can be found in the Google Form). Submissions must be completed no later than March 14, 2022.

Judging Criteria

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.



  1. 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.
  2. Essays must have a title at the top of the first page of the essay (do not use a title page).
  3. Essays must be between 800-1,200 words, not counting the title and bibliography.
  4. 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 2022. The first-place winner will be recognized at the BJC board meeting in October 2022. Entrants will hear from BJC by email after the winners are selected.

If you have questions, contact Director of Education Charles Watson Jr. at [email protected]

2021 Winners

Religious Liberty Essay Contest

Grand prize winner: 
Grace C. Karanick
Anaheim, California 

Essay title: “My Mother’s Dilemma: Religious Leader, Elected Official, and Separation of Church and State”

Religious Liberty Essay Contest

2nd prize:

Elijah Arias
Carlsbad, Texas

Essay title: “Leaders for Liberty”

Religious Liberty Essay Contest

3rd prize:

Ella Stone
Lewisville, Texas

Essay Title:  “From the Pulpit to Public Office”

Previous Contest Winners

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