Freedom from religion foundation, Inc | Subscribe
Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Grad/‘older’ student essay contest winners

Grad school essay contest

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is proud to announce the 10 winners and nine honorable mentions of the Brian Bolton Essay Contest for Graduate/“Older” Students. FFRF has paid out a total of $17,750 in award money to this year’s contest winners.

Graduate students up to age 30 or undergrad students ages 25–30 were asked to write a persuasive essay on “Why God has no place in political debate.” Students were asked to make the case for keeping “God” and religion out of the political debates, and the dangers posed when public officials pander and mix religion with government.

This contest is generously and singlehandedly endowed by Lifetime Member Brian Bolton, a retired psychologist, humanist minister and professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas. Bolton is also underwriting FFRF’s Bible Accountability Project to call attention to the continuing harm of the bible to society.

FFRF thanks Dean and Dorea Schramm of Florida for providing a $100 bonus to students who are members of a secular group, student club or Secular Student Alliance. The total of $17,750 reflects those bonuses.

FFRF also thanks “Director of First Impressions” Lisa Treu for managing the details of the essay contests. And we couldn’t judge these competitions without help from our “faithful faithless” volunteers and staff members, including Don Ardell, Dan Barker, Darrell Barker, Bill Dunn, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Stephen Hirtle, Judy Jacobs, Linda Josheff, Dan Kettner, Katya Maes, Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey, Amit Pal, Dave Petrashek, Sue Schuetz, Lauryn Seering, PJ Slinger and Karen Lee Weidig.

FFRF has offered essay competitions to college students since 1979, high school students since 1994, grad and older students since 2010, one geared specifically for students of color since 2016 and one for law school students since 2019.

Winners, their ages, the colleges or universities they are attending and the award amounts are listed below. The winning essays are reprinted in this issue. The honorable mention essays will not be reprinted here but can be seen at

Note: The essays were written prior to the November elections and have been edited, when possible, to reflect the discrepancy. 

First place

Miriam Barnicle, 23, Alverno College, $3,500.

Second place

Kelsey Kane-Ritsch, 26, Columbia University, $3,000.

Third place

Sydni Ham Myers, 29, Virginia Commonwealth, $2,500.

Fourth place

Nicolle D., South Dakota State University, $2,000.

Fifth place

Rebecca Barrett, 25, Emory University, $1,500.

Sixth place

T. Parker Schwartz, 27, Capital University, $1,000.

Seventh place

Ipsha Banerjee, 22, Arizona State University, $750.

Eighth place

Sonia Bajaj, 28, Benedictine University, $500.

Ninth place

Paula Canales, University of Texas-San Antonio, $400.

Tenth place

Michelle Krauser, 30, Coastal Carolina University, $300.

Honorable mentions ($200 each)

Emella Canlas, 25, California State University, East Bay.

John Carroll, 25, SUNY Fredonia.

Selina Chan, 29, University of Pennsylvania.

Ruth Dickey-Chasins, 26, George Washington University.

Kavitha Kannanunny, 25, New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Brionna McCumber, 23, Colorado State University.

Yarrow Mead, 25, Hamline University.

Yamiset Trujillo, 28, University of Central  Florida.

Andrew Young, 22, University of Denver.