FFRF awards $17,750 to grad/’older’ student essay contest winners


The Freedom From Religion Foundation is proud to award $17,750 in prize money to the 10 winners and nine honorable mentions of the 2020 Brian Bolton Essay Contest for Graduate/“Older” Students.

Graduate students up to age 30 or undergrad students ages 25-30 were asked to write a persuasive essay on “Why God has no place in political debate.” Students were asked to make the case for keeping “God” and religion out of the political debates, and the dangers posed when public officials pander and mix religion with government.

This contest is generously and singlehandedly endowed by Lifetime Member Brian Bolton, a retired psychologist, humanist minister and professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas. Bolton is also underwriting FFRF’s Bible Accountability Project to call attention to the continuing harm of the bible to society.

Winners, their ages, the colleges or universities they are attending and the award amounts are listed below. The winning essays are reprinted in the upcoming January/February issue of Freethought Today, FFRF’s newspaper, available online and as a hard copy.

First place
Miriam Barnicle, 23, Alverno College, $3,500
Second place
Kelsey Kane-Ritsch, 26, Columbia University, $3,000
Third place
Sydni Myers, 29, Virginia Commonwealth University, $2,500
Fourth place
Nicolle Dirksen, South Dakota State University, $2,000.
Fifth place
Rebecca Barrett, 25, Emory University, $1,500
Sixth place
Parker Schwartz, 27, Capital University, $1,000.
Seventh place
Ipsha Banerjee, 22, Arizona State University, $750.
Eighth place
Sonia Bajaj, 28, Benedictine University, $500.
Ninth place
Paula Canales, University of Texas-San Antonio, $400
10th place
Michelle Krauser, 30, Coastal Carolina University, $300.
Honorable mentions ($200 each)
Emella Canlas, 25, California State University, East Bay
John Carroll, 25, SUNY Fredonia
Selina Chan, 29, University of Pennsylvania
Ruth Dickey-Chasins, 26, George Washington University
Kavitha Kannanunny, 25, New Jersey Institute of Technology
Brionna McCumber, 23, Colorado State University
Yarrow Mead, 25, Hamline University
Yamiset Trujillo, 28, University of Central Florida
Andrew Young, 22, University of Denver

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

FFRF thanks Dean and Dorea Schramm of Florida for providing a $100 bonus to students who are members of a secular group, student club or Secular Student Alliance. The total of $17,750 reflects those bonuses.

FFRF also thanks “Director of First Impressions” Lisa Treu for managing the details of the essay contests. And we couldn’t judge these competitions without help from our “faithful faithless” volunteers and staff members, including Don Ardell, Dan Barker, Darrell Barker, Bill Dunn, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Stephen Hirtle, Judy Jacobs, Linda Josheff, Dan Kettner, Katya Maes, Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey, Amit Pal, Dave Petrashek, Sue Schuetz, Lauryn Seering, PJ Slinger and Karen Lee Weidig.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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