Editor's Note: Americans United is pleased to announce the winners of its annual essay contest for high school students. Nearly 140 submissions were received from students nationwide. A panel of judges consisting of AU staff members, interns and Gerardo Rivera, a member of AU's Youth Advisory Council, read the essays and selected the top three.
First place is being awarded to Ranen Miao of Short Hills, N.J., who attended Millburn High School. He received a scholarship prize of $1,500. Dustin Daniels from Crossville, Tenn., who attends Stone Memorial High School, took second place and received $1,000. Third place was captured by Isabella Reish, from Murfreesboro, Tenn., who attends Central Magnet School; she was awarded $500.
Church & State is pleased to print Miao's winning entry here. We thank all of the students who entered.
We are living in troubling times. With the rise of authoritarianism and right-wing populism, minority groups are increasingly marginalized and scapegoated. From anti-Semitic tropes used in Cameroon to the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, religious freedom is becoming increasingly important.
However, in the United States, our freedom is being weaponized to justify discriminatory and harmful policies. My generation must change our understanding of religious freedom, mobilize to enact change and show up to vote for inclusive policies which can both uphold religious freedom while also defending equality. Fundamentally, my generation must redefine what religious freedom truly is.
The rise of the Religious Right has led to a conservative monopolization of religion and morality, but there are followers of faith on both sides of the political spectrum. As the Pew Research Center reports in their Religious Landscape Study, a majority of Buddhists, Jews, historically black Protestants and Muslims identify as Democrats. However, faith is most frequently politicized and cited by the right.
The Manhattan Declaration, published in 2009, was a manifesto issued by Catholic, Orthodox and evangelical Christian leaders denouncing abortion and gay marriage. Those same principles were later ingrained in the 2016 Platform of the Republican National Committee, which refused to "fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage," called "traditional marriage [...] the foundation for a free society," and swore to defend "nonprofit tax status" for institutions which discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. In...