The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an educational state-church watchdog with nearly 20,000 nonreligious members nationwide, has awarded $33,000 in cash scholarships to 48 deserving student recipients this year.
FFRF has offered essay competitions to college students since 1979. In 1994, FFRF added a separate contest for college-bound high school seniors. FFRF debuted its “graduate/mature students over age 25” competition in 2010.
The awards have gradually increased to $3,000 for the first-place essay, $2,000 for second place, $1,000 for third place, $500 for fourth place and $300 for a newly offered fifth place. Several $200 “honorable mentions” are awarded at the judges’ discretion.
Brian Bolton, a retired psychologist, humanist minister and formerly a professor with the University of Arkansas, sponsored the graduate competition. "Why the U.S. is not a Christian nation" was the topic for the 2013 contest.
The late sociologist Michael Hakeem, for whom the ongoing college student contest is named, was an FFRF officer and active atheist known by a generation of University of Wisconsin-Madison students. This year's college topic was, "Why I don't believe in God."
The annual contest for college-bound high school seniors is named for the late William J. Schultz, a Wisconsin member who left a major bequest to FFRF. This year's high school topic was "Challenges of being a young freethinker." The high school essays this year included poignant accounts of religion forced on football teams, deaths of family members and teachers comparing atheism to smoking.
FFRF would also like to thank Dorea and Dean Schamm of Florida for providing eligible students with a $50 bonus. The winning essays have appeared in recent issues of Freethought Today, FFRF's newspaper edited by Bill Dunn, which is published 10 times a year.
"We consider our student scholarships as among FFRF's most important endeavors," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "So many scholarships reward orthodoxy and belief, but very few award critical thinking about religion."
Please come back in February 2014 for guidelines to next year's essay competition.
Compiled by Lauryn Seering