AU’s annual essay contest encourages high school students to reflect on why religious freedom and the separation of religion and government are important to them and their communities—and what they can do to ensure religious freedom is used as a shield that protects, not a sword to harm others.

This year’s contest focused on an important piece of federal legislation that would ensure religious freedom for all, the Do No Harm Act. AU invites high school juniors and seniors to submit a piece of original writing that responds to the topic and meets the criteria below. 

The 2021 Student Essay Contest is now closed for submissions. Read about the winners here!



Passing the Do No Harm Act will ensure that religious freedom laws are a shield to protect the rights of everyone to practice any faith or no faith at all, so long as they do not harm others. 

The Do No Harm Act is designed to restore the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to its original intent to protect religious freedom, especially for religious minorities, while clarifying it cannot be used to discriminate. RFRA is now being misused to harm others; for example, the Trump Administration has said that organizations can use RFRA to discriminate in employment for jobs funded by taxpayer dollars. 

The Do No Harm Act will make sure that RFRA cannot be used to harm people, particularly LGBTQ people, religious minorities, women, and others by: undermining nondiscrimination laws, evading child labor laws, refusing to perform duties as a government employee, denying access to health care, overriding workplace laws, and refusing to provide government-funded services under a contract. Read this fact sheet to learn more about RFRA and the Do No Harm Act.

How would the Do No Harm Act impact church-state separation and the real lives of people in the United States? 

  • The strongest submissions will weave together personal experience and well-researched information on current and/or historical events to make a persuasive argument. 
  • Submissions can describe multiple ways that the Do No Harm Act would affect different groups or may focus on one topic (for example, discrimination against LGBTQ people in employment).

Submissions must be received no later than 11:59PM ET on Monday, April 19.


  • Essay length should be between 750 and 1,000 words.
  • Writing should be clear, creative, and proofread; demonstrate genuine grappling with the topic; and be the student’s original writing.
  • Submissions should make persuasive arguments supported by specific examples and/or properly cited sources where appropriate. (Students may use their preferred citation or footnote style.) Essays can reference personal experiences, current events, legal cases, U.S. history, primary sources, and information from


  • The contest is open to high school juniors and seniors in the United States including the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories.
  • Employees and board members of Americans United, and members of their families, are not eligible to participate.


  • First place: $1,500 and essay will be printed on AU’s website and in Church & State magazine
  • Second place: $1,000 and essay will be printed on AU’s website
  • Third Place: $500 and essay will be printed on AU’s website


Submissions are now closed. Participants will be notified in June whether they are selected for a prize and winners will be announced publicly later this year.


We invite you to share the Student Essay Contest with your friends, family, on your social media networks, or anyone else who might be interested through the following resources: