Outreach & Events - Freedom From Religion Foundation
Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

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Constructing Straw Men

The Freedom From Religion Foundation announces its 2015 high school, college and graduate/mature student essay scholarship competitions, which offer more than $23,000 in total cash prizes.

FFRF, an educational state/church watchdog with more than 21,500 members nationwide, offered its first student competition in 1979. FFRF added a separate contest for college-bound high school seniors in 1994 and one geared to graduate/"older" students (ages 25-30) in 2010.

The awards are: $3,000 first place, $2,000 second place, $1,000 third place, $750 fourth place, $500 fifth place and $400 for sixth place. Several $200 "honorable mentions" may be awarded at judges' discretion.

A bonus of $50 from FFRF members Dean and Dorea Schramm will be given to any winner who is also a member of a secular student club (or who joins Secular Student Alliance online, which is free).

Thousands of scholarship programs reward students for blind faith and orthodoxy, but hardly any reward students for using reason. Please publicize FFRF's important outreach to the next generation at your local high schools, colleges and universities, and to the students in your life.

William J. Schulz High School Senior Essay Competition

"Why I'm Good Without God: Challenges of being a young nonbeliever" or "Young, bold and nonbelieving: Challenges of being a nonbeliever of color"

Choose one of topics below:

Atheist/nonbeliever of color prompt: Write from personal perspective about experiences or challenges you face, as a nonbeliever in a religious family or community, and minority within the freethought community. Are there obstacles discouraging diversity within the movement? What do you think could be done to make freethought and nonbelief more attractive to America's nonwhite communities? Include at least one paragraph about why you are a nonbeliever.

Why I'm good without God prompt: Write from personal perspective about your experiences or challenges in the face of persistent stereotypes that atheists and other nonbelievers are not moral. Explain how you're "good without God," why religion is not necessary for morality and may even be counterproductive. What can be done by you or others to counter negative stereotypes about nonbelievers? Include at least one paragraph about why you are a nonbeliever.

Eligibility: North American high school senior who graduates in Spring 2015, going on to college in Fall 2015.

Word length: 500 to 700 words.

Deadline: Postmarked no later than June 1, 2015. Winners announced in August.

Submission rules: Essays must be both mailed and emailed. Email your essay to be postmarked no later than June 1, 2015 to  with subject heading "Essay [and Your Full Name]," e.g., Essay (Your Name Here). Follow other requirements listed at end of this article. Click here to view a printable PDF.

This competition is endowed by William J. Schultz, a member of FFRF who died at 57, was a farm boy who became a chemical engineer and built paper-producing mills around the world, and cared deeply about FFRF's purposes.

Michael Hakeem Memorial College Essay Competition

"Proud to be an atheist: Challenging stigmas against nonbelievers"

Topic prompt: Atheists are one of the most despised minorities, yet statistically are among the most moral segments in the U.S. population. Write a persuasive essay about why nonbelievers should be respected, not stigmatized. Include personal perspective or experiences with religious family, schoolmates or community. Provide supporting arguments (e.g., recent studies, philosophical or historic perspectives) about how freethinkers contribute to society despite widespread vilification. Include at least one paragraph about why you are a nonbeliever.

Word length: 700 to 900 words

Eligibility: Currently enrolled undergraduate college student through age 24, including but not limited to college seniors graduating in Spring or Summer 2015, attending North American college or university.

Deadline: Postmarked no later than June 15, 2015. Winners announced by September.

Submission rules: Essays must be both mailed and emailed. Email your essay to be postmarked no later than June 15, 2015 to  with subject heading "Essay [and Your Full Name]," e.g., Essay (Your Name Here). Follow other requirements listed at the end of article. Click here to view a printable PDF.

The late Michael Hakeem, a sociology professor, was an FFRF officer and active atheist known by generations of University of Wisconsin-Madison students for fine-tuning their reasoning abilities.

Brian Bolton Graduate/ "Older" Student Essay Competition

"Religion and violence: What is to blame for religious terrorism?"

Topic prompt: Write a persuasive analysis dissecting the common claim that religion cannot be held responsible for violence in its name. For example, President Obama has said of the Islamic State: "They are not religious leaders, they are terrorists. No religion is responsible for terrorism. People are responsible for violence and terrorism." He also said "no god condones the killing of innocents." Analyze the claim that it's only a handful of extremists who are "perverting" religion who are to blame for the violence, and not religion itself. Provide supporting arguments to back up your position (religious pronouncements such as biblical or Quranic verses, historic or contemporary violence, underlying factors, etc.). Are there solutions to religious terrorism?

Eligibility: Currently enrolled graduate student including up to age 30, or undergrads ages 25-30, attending North American college or university, including but not limited to someone graduating or earning degree in Spring or Summer 2015.

Word Limit: 750 to 950 word essay.

Deadline: Postmarked no later than July 1, 2015. Winners announced by late September.

Submission rules: Essays must be both mailed and emailed. Email your essay to be postmarked no later than July 1, 2015 to  with subject heading "Essay [and Your Full Name]," e.g., Essay (Your Name Here). Follow other requirements listed at the end. Click here to view a printable PDF.

The competition is generously endowed by Brian Bolton, an FFRF Lifetime Member who is a retired psychologist, humanist minister and university professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas.

RULES APPLYING TO ALL COMPETITIONS

Submit essay both by mail and email by postmark deadline. No faxes. Essay must be typed, double-spaced, standard margins and stapled. Include word count. Place name and essay title on each page. Choose town title. Attach one-paragraph biography on separate page at end of essay including name, age and birth date, hometown, university or college, year in school, major or intended major, degree being earned and interests. (High school students should include high school's name, city, state and date of graduation as well as intended college.) Do not include a résumé.

For chance at additional $50 bonus, indicate the name of the secular school or college club you belong to or join Secular Student Alliance (free at www.secularstudents.org/studentmember and mention it in bio). Provide both summer and fall 2015 addresses (campus and home), phone numbers and email addresses for notification. Winners may be asked to send verification of student enrollment.

Students will be disqualified if they do not follow instructions. FFRF monitors for plagiarism. Do not write under or over word minimums and maximums. By entering, students agree to permit winning essays to be printed in full or in part in Freethought Today, FFRF's newspaper, and posted online at FFRF's website. Winners agree to promptly provide a photograph suitable for reproduction with their essay and will not receive their prize until they do so. Winners will receive a school-year subscription to Freethought Today. All eligible entrants will be offered a subscription to Freethought Today or a freethought book or product.

Email essay as indicated above; also mail by required deadline to:

FFRF
______ (fill in) Essay Contest
PO Box 750
Madison WI 53701

Why I’m Good Without God: Challenges of being a young nonbeliever or Young, bold and nonbelieving: Challenges of being a nonbeliever of color

For College-Bound High School Seniors

First place: William J. Schultz Memorial Award: $3,000
Second place: $2,000
Third place: $1,000
Fourth place: $750
Fifth place:— $500
Sixth place - $400
Optional honorable mention(s): $200

Eligibility: North American high school seniors who graduate in spring 2015, going to college in fall 2015.

Choose one of the topics below:

  • Atheist/nonbeliever of color prompt: Write from personal perspective about experiences or challenges you face, as a nonbeliever in a religious family or community, and minority within the freethought community. Are there obstacles discouraging diversity within the movement? What do you think could be done to make freethought and nonbelief more attractive to America's nonwhite communities? Include at least one paragraph about why you are a nonbeliever.
  • Why I'm good without God prompt: Write from personal perspective about your experiences or challenges in the face of persistent stereotypes that atheists and other nonbelievers are not moral. Explain how you're "good without God," why religion is not necessary for morality and may even be counterproductive. What can you or others do to counter negative stereotypes about nonbelievers? Include at least one paragraph about why you are a nonbeliever.

Length: 500 to 700 words.

Other requirements: Essays must be submitted both by mail and email by postmark deadline. No faxes. Type, double-spaced essays with standard margins and staple. Include word count. Place name and essay title on each page. Choose own title and include a one-paragraph biography on separate page at end of essay. Include name, age and birth date, hometown, university or college, year in school, intended major and interests, name, city and state of high school and date of graduation as well as intended college. Don't attach a résumé.

Provide both summer and fall 2015 addresses (campus and home), phone numbers and email addresses for notification. Winners may be asked to send verification of student enrollment. FFRF monitors for plagiarism. Do not write under or over word minimums and maximums. For chance to win $50 bonus, indicate the name of the secular school or college club you belong to or join the Secular Student Alliance (free at www.secularstudents.org/studentmember) and mention it. The bonus is provided by a kind couple. Click here to view a printable PDF.

Deadline: Postmarked no later than June 1, 2015. Winners announced in August.

Submission rules: Essays must be both mailed (postmarked) and emailed no later than June 1, 2015 to with subject heading "Essay [and Your Full Name]," e.g., Essay Voltaire, and send to:

High School Essay Contest
FFRF
PO Box 750
Madison WI 53701

About William J. Schultz: This competition is endowed by William J. Schultz, a member of FFRF who died at 57, was a farm boy who became a chemical engineer and built paper-producing mills around the world. He cared deeply about FFRF's work.

Please check back soon for our 2015 Michael Hakeem Memorial College Essay and Brian Bolton Graduate/Older Student Essay prompts.

 

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Grandma got run over by a church bus…

By Sam Grover
Staff Attorney
Freedom From Religion Foundation

If you give religion an inch, it'll take a mile. This has never been more true in the U.S. than it is today, as illustrated by the Supreme Court's unfortunate Hobby Lobby debacle. One argument that Hobby Lobby's religious, anti-choice owners made in their case was that because the Affordable Care Act already had exemptions to the contraceptive mandate for nonprofit religious institutions, that exemption needed to apply to for-profit corporations too. And they won. In other words, when Congress gave churches an inch, religious for-profit corporations took a mile.

Now, drivers in Mississippi are dangerously close to learning that if you give organized religion a bus, it'll run you off the road. The Mississippi House has already passed House Bill 132, a bill that would allow church-owned vehicles designed to transport up to 30 passengers to be driven by someone who doesn't have the required commercial driver's license. One opponent of the bill has appropriately dubbed it the "Jesus Take the Wheel" Act.

Whatever you call the bill, it's clear that if a shuttle bus is being driven by religious people, the Mississippi House doesn't care whether the driver knows how to drive it... because "religious freedom" is more important!

Mississippi legislators aside, most people recognize the importance of only allowing properly licensed drivers behind the wheel. Amanda Metskas, Executive Director of Camp Quest—a secular summer camp that promotes freethought and critical thinking—writes, "Even if this loophole applied to Camp Quest, we wouldn't allow unlicensed operators to drive our campers in buses. There is nothing about being part of a church that makes you qualified to drive children in a bus, and it's simply irresponsible to put children's lives in the hands of people without the proper training and licensure.

HB 132 exemplifies the recent line blurring between practicing one's religion and doing normal things while religious. The former, which includes being able to pray to any god or teapot one chooses, is rightfully protected by the Free Exercise Clause. The latter, which includes operating a for-profit business or driving a freaking bus, is not subject to special protections. Even religious people should have to abide by the same rules as everyone else when performing nonreligious tasks.

Organized religion is not out for equality, it is out to grab as many special privileges as possible. HB 132 and the Religious Freedom Restoration bills going through the legislative process in a handful of states are specifically designed to exempt religious people from generally applicable laws. The federal version of RFRA has already been used by Hobby Lobby to carve out a special exemption for religious for-profit corporations. And as long as people continue to confuse special religious privileges with free religious exercise, zealous litigants and lobbyists will continue to chip away at the wall of separation between state and church.

Or maybe they'll drive a bus through it.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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