The Nature Coast Chapter 65 of Americans United started about sixteen years ago in Citrus County, Florida. We organized in part because there is a large Evangelical and Roman Catholic representation in our community, and the School System uses volunteers from these religious group to help teach an abstinence-only policy in their family planning courses. Also, prayers often accompany political events and precede governmental meetings.
The first public activity of our group was to reverse the Christian-Prayer-Only policy of the Crystal River Council in 2005. Recently, we have tried to regularly present church/state separation issues to the public in the form of guest essays in our local paper. We have had two guest editorials, one of which was mentioned in the June issue of “Church & State.”
Two years ago we started one of our most rewarding projects, a scholarship contest for public high school juniors and seniors. We offered a three hundred dollar prize for the best five hundred word essay on the subject, "Why is the Separation Clause of the First Amendment vital in America today?"
The first year we recieved only one submission, and we presented the award at the winner's high school Senior Awards Ceremony. This year we personally contacted the guidance department of each high school. One of the Advanced Placement History course teachers used the contest as a lesson plan, and we received twenty six entries. Five of us spent several hours whittling down the pile to two really good essays, and awarded both winners their prizes at a recent meeting. We made arrangements with the local paper for publicity, and were featured with a half-page picture and article!
Although it was a challenge to not be able to monitor where our information went once we contacted the schools, getting the students and their families in the newspaper photo will help next year's contest. We are very happy to have reached so many Advanced Placement History students. They learned a life-long lesson at an important time in their lives.
Nature Coast Chapter 65