BJC Blog RSS Feeds
Home arrow What We Do arrow Education arrow Essay Contest
Religious Liberty Essay Scholarship Contest PDF Print E-mail

The postmark deadline for the 2014 essay contest was March 7. 

The winners are scheduled to be announced in late summer. Return to this page in the future for the latest.

The topic for the 2015 contest will be released in the fall. Contact Charles Watson Jr. at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it with any questions about the annual contest. 



Baptist Joint Committee announces winners of 2013 essay contest

High school students examine ‘Christian nation’ claims, religious diversity

Contact: Cherilyn Crowe (202) 544-4226 / This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

WASHINGTON – An essay debunking the myth that the United States was founded as a “Christian nation” is the winner of the 2013 Religious Liberty Essay Scholarship Contest, sponsored by the Religious Liberty Council of the Baptist Joint Committee.

This year’s essay topic asked students to examine religious diversity in America and evaluate the claim that the United States was founded as a “Christian nation.” More than 430 high school juniors and seniors from 46 states – as well as students from China and Sweden – submitted entries.

The grand prize winner is Christian Belanger of Wallingford, Pa. His essay, titled “Christianity and the Founding Fathers: Exploring America’s Purported Religious Origins,” made the case that the United States was not founded as a “Christian nation” while exploring the dangers of misinterpreting its religious origin. Belanger’s essay examined the Constitution and the archival writings of the Founding Fathers to come to his conclusion. In his essay, Belanger wrote that “America was definitely not founded as a ‘Christian nation,’ despite the Christian leanings of many of its founders. Furthermore, these misinformed and dangerous attempts at mythologizing the genesis – pun intended – of America and its religious influences may contribute, in harmful ways, to the oppression of minority beliefs.”

As the grand prize winner, Belanger receives a $2,000 scholarship and a trip to Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the Baptist Joint Committee board meeting in October. The son of Gitte and Kenneth Belanger, he is a 2013 graduate of Strath Haven High School and will attend the University of Chicago this fall. Click here to watch Belanger read his winning essay.

Kourtney Kostecki of St. Peters, Mo., earned the second place prize of a $1,000 scholarship. In her essay, titled “Not Foundation, Influence,” Kostecki wrote, “Many of the Founders were practicing Christians, so the fact that Christian principles had an impact on the nation only makes sense. These statements and facts are not evidence of Christian foundation, but rather Christian influence.” The daughter of Karin and Kurt Kostecki, she is a 2013 graduate of St. Joseph’s Academy and will attend Iowa State University in the fall.

The third place winner is Katie Hillery of Placentia, Calif., who receives a $250 scholarship. In her essay, titled “Religious Refuge or Christian Country: The Role of Religion in the Founding of the American Republic,” Hillery wrote, “During an age of religious fervor when European nations legislated in accordance with the religious beliefs of the majority, America broke rank; for the first time, a nation was founded not on religious dogma but on religious liberty.” Katie is the daughter of Colleen and Matt Hillery, and she is a home-schooled student who will graduate in the spring of 2014.

The winning essays are available on the Baptist Joint Committee website as Word documents.

Click here to download the grand prize essay
Click here to download the 2nd place essay
Click here to download the 3rd place essay

The Religious Liberty Essay Scholarship Contest was established in 2006 to engage high school juniors and seniors in church-state issues. A panel of judges issued scores based on the content of each essay and the author’s writing skills.


The Baptist Joint Committee is a 77-year-old, Washington, D.C.-based religious liberty organization that works to defend and extend God-given religious liberty for all, bringing a uniquely Baptist witness to the principle that religion must be freely exercised, neither advanced nor inhibited by government.

New Police Commissioner Abandons NYPD Muslim Surveillance Program
A new police commissioner in New York has brought new policies. William Bratton put an end to the Demographics Unit, an undercover surveillance operation controversial for targeting Muslim communities, including maintaining files on individual houses of worship. (The BJC and others last yea...
Louisiana Considers Holy Bible as State Book
Over the years writing this blog, I have seen several state and local governments memorialize the Ten Commandments through monuments, posters and other government displays. But a recent effort in Louisiana is a new (misguided) way to promote Scripture through government: legislators there are...