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FFRF awards $17,400 to 2023 college student essay contest winners

2023 Ongoing College winners

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is proud to announce the 11 winners and six honorable mentions of the 2023 Kenneth L. Proulx Memorial Essay Contest for Ongoing College Students. FFRF has paid out a total of $17,400 in award money to this year’s college contest winners.

Currently enrolled college students (up to age 24) wrote on the topic of “What I would tell Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene about the harm of Christian nationalism.” They penned essays, in the form of a letter, telling Greene why her espousal of Christian nationalism is antithetical to secular American principles. 

This contest is named for Kenneth L. Proulx, FFRF’s most generous benefactor, who died in 2019. The cupola at Freethought Hall, FFRF’s office in Madison, Wis., is called the “Above Us Only Sky Kenneth L. Proulx Cupola,” or “Ken’s Cupola” for short. 

The $1,000 prize for sixth place in the ongoing college competition is generously endowed by actor and FFRF Lifetime Member Mr. Madison Arnold. Arnold, who is 87, has given a $30,000 endowment as a living bequest, what he calls a “pre-quest.”

Essay contest winners, their ages, the colleges or universities they are attending and the award amounts are listed below, and winning essays are reprinted or excerpted in this issue.
Skylar Blumenauer, 18, George Washington University, $3,500.
Brooke Langis, 19, Clark University, $3,000.
Jessica Oakes, 21, Ferris State University, $2,500.
Catherine Laver, 19, University of British Columbia, $2,000.
Sophie Godin, 20, St. Francis Xavier University, $1,500.
Peter Huerta, 24, Guttman Community College, $1,000.
Valentina Jaeger, 20, University of Central Missouri, $750.
Montana Stake, 24, Southern New Hampshire University, $750.
Sophie Olson, 21, University of Minnesota, $500.
Ted Kwee-Bintoro, 19, University of Pennsylvania, $400.
Aubrey Echard, 22, Kennesaw State University, $300.
Evan Brown, 19, University of Missouri – Columbia.
Matthew Quall, 21, University of Washington – Seattle.
Gary Ramee, Jr., 23, Louisiana State University.
Katherine Shaw, 20, University of Kentucky.
Jeremy Yiu, 20, University of California-Davis.
Madison Zitlaw, 20, Indiana University.

FFRF also thanks Lisa Treu for managing the details of this and FFRF’s other student essays competitions. And we couldn’t judge these contests without our volunteer and staff judges, including: Don Ardell, Dan Barker, David Chivers, Jon S. Galehouse, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Russell Gibson, Ricki Grunberg, Tim Hatcher, Linda Josheff, Dan Kettner, Brianna Knoppow, Sammi Lawrence, Gloria Marquardt, Chris O’Connell, Andrea Osburne, JoAnn Papich, Sue Schuetz, Rose Mary Sheldon, PJ Slinger and Chance Wimberly.

FFRF has offered essay competitions to college students since 1979, high school students since 1994, grad students since 2010, one for students of color since 2016 and a fifth contest for law students since 2019. 

“Christian nationalism is becoming more and more of a destabilizing force in this country,” says FFRf Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We were heartened by the essays showing the younger generation is prepared to counter this undemocratic movement.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members across the country. FFRF protects the constitutional separation between state and church and educates about nontheism.

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