Committed To Social Justice: Ranen Miao, The Winner Of AU's Student Essay Contest, Is Determined To Stop The 'Weaponization' Of Religious Freedom.

Author:Freiman, Zachary

The through-line of Ranen Miao's life has been his steadfast commitment to the social good. The winner of this year's AU Student Essay Contest, Miao chose to write about the Religious Right's use of religious freedom as a license to discriminate, and why it is essential that advocates for church-state separation reclaim the term itself. I recently spoke with Miao in order to get deeper insight into his upbringing and outlook on issues facing society.

Despite having lived his whole life in New Jersey, Miao is the child of two immigrants. Both his parents grew up under the "immensely repressive" regime in communist China. Chinese authoritarianism, which heavily restricted religious practice and all that comes with it (assembly, community, charitable efforts, etc.), says Miao, gives him deep insight into what "religion does and can do and what it's done in the past."

Starting this fall, Miao will begin his first year at Washington University in St. Louis, a prestigious research institution with an enrollment of about 15,000. Miao intends to study political science in order to "give back to [his] community in some way, whether it be through public service or journalism, education or business."

It's the same spirit he has practiced throughout his life.

In high school, Miao engaged in a plethora of community service activities. Not only did he volunteer with Key Club International, the oldest high school community service program in the country, but also with the Red Cross, the Thirst Project and the New Jersey Federation of Food Banks. As he put it, his volunteerism ran the gamut from a Thanksgiving food drive and smaller bake sales to build wells in Africa to food shelters in New Jersey.

Volunteer work wasn't his only passion in high school, though. Miao is a debate champion. Ranked first in the country for congressional debate, Miao has traveled to over 12 states and the District of Columbia defending his title.

Congressional debate competition "is a form of debate where you pretend to be a mock legislator and speak on bills and resolutions," he explained. It's what made his research into religious freedom laws in this country come easily. Miao is such an excellent debater, in fact, that he traveled to Germany, Singapore, Slovenia and Taiwan as part of the USA Debate Team.

When I asked Miao what had interested him in submitting to the AU student essay contest, he replied that a few years ago he met the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the former head of...

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