FFRF 2017 student essay contests offers over $30,000 in awards


The Freedom From Religion Foundation is delighted to unveil its 2017 annual student essay competitions.

This year, FFRF is establishing a new essay competition to encourage freethinking students of color, the David Hudak Memorial Contest, as a fourth permanent category. The contest will rotate annually between age groups.

FFRF has long offered essay competitions for college-bound high school seniors, for ongoing college students and for graduate or “older” undergrads, awarding a total of more than $30,000 in scholarships.

“We have considered these contests, which encourage and reward young freethinkers, to be one of FFRF’s most important forms of outreach,” says FFRF co-founder and Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Each of the contests offers six awards: first place – $3,000; second place – $2,000; third place – $1,000; fourth place – $750; fifth place – $500; sixth place – $400. FFRF also offers optional honorable mentions of $200. To encourage student activism, Florida FFRF members Dean and Dorea Schramm also offer a bonus of $100 to any winner who is a member of a secular student club at time of entry. All eligible entrants will receive a choice of a school-year membership in FFRF or freethinking book or product.

FFRF has introduced a major innovation this year by creating a streamlined process. Students will be asked to fill out an online application and upload their essays in PDF format.

FFRF is asking college-bound high school seniors to write on the topic: “If there was one thing I could tell my family or a believer about why I’m a nonbeliever, this would be it.” The William J. Schulz Memorial Contest is open to all. The David Hudak Memorial Contest for Students of Color, debuting this year, has a similar topic tailored to the experiences of students of color. Both contests for high school seniors have June 1 deadlines and word limits of 350-500 words, with winners announced in July. 

“My morals do not come from God, they come from . . .” is the open-ended topic offered to ongoing college students in the Michael Hakeem Memorial Contest. College students are asked to write essays of 450-650 words due by July 1, with winners announced in August.

Graduate students (to age 30) and “older” undergrads (ages 25-30) are asked to explore “Why religious liberty shouldn’t mean the right to impose your religion on others.” The essay should be 600-750 words in length, must be received by July 15, with winners announced in September. FFRF is indebted to retired Professor Brian Bolton, who endows this annual contest. 

“There are contests and scholarships galore rewarding religious conformity and orthodoxy,” says Gaylor. “We want to reward youth who have the moxie to think for themselves and the audacity to go against the tide.”

Students are asked, via the online application, to provide a paragraph-long bio, age, full contact information including phone numbers and email addresses, and their intended majors and college or university in North America. By entering the competition, they agree to allow FFRF to publish or excerpt their winning essay in FFRF’s newspaper, Freethought Today, and its website, and to provide a photograph suitable to reprint with their winning essay. Winners may be asked to provide student verification. Students should carefully review all contest rules.

FFRF wishes to thank Pitzer College Professor Phil Zuckerman, author of “Living the Secular Life” and a foremost expert in secularity, for brainstorming essay topics for high school and college students.

FFRF is appreciative of members who make the effort to contact local high schools, colleges and universities to help publicize the competition.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, with more than 27,000 nonreligious members, works as a state/church watchdog to defend the First Amendment.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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