Polls consistently show Americans have a limited knowledge of their First Amendment rights. They know about freedom of speech and freedom of religion but often can’t name the other rights protected by the First Amendment.
Worse, a consistent one-third of Americans tell pollsters they think the First Amendment goes too far in offering these protections.
CFOG’s annual high school essay contest is a valuable tool in focusing student and teacher attention on First Amendment issues. Each January, information on the contest is sent to teachers around Connecticut. First prize is $1,000, second prize is $500, third prize is $300 and honorable mentions are $50.
Often, teachers give students extra credit for their essays or even include the CFOG contest as one of a number of essay contests that students must pick from and enter as part of their class requirements.
The CFOG contest topics involve issues in the news, and issues that confront students at school. There have been questions about the banning of message T-shirts and even bracelets that sought to raise cancer awareness with language school administrators thought was inappropriate.
Last year, the topics included threats on Facebook, police body cameras and FBI agents pretending to be reporters to investigate a high school bombing threat.
Our top winners in 2015 were Alexis Tatore of Greenwich High School, Cole Schmidt of Waterbury Arts Magnet School and Bennett Brain of Greenwich High. Honorable mentions went to students at Northwestern Regional High School in Winsted, Trumbull High School and Greenwich High.
The 2016 essay topics are:
1. Recent student protests have included demands that college administrators suppress speech that the protesting students believe is insensitive to racial minorities, women or other historically disempowered groups. Would the granting of these demands violate the First Amendment?
2. FBI Director James Comey says increased public scrutiny of police officers, including cell phone videos, is making officers reluctant to aggressively respond to crime. Does the First Amendment protect a citizen’s right to videotape police?
3. Connecticut’s governor has proposed “confidential” trials in some cases for defendants up to age 25. Would this conflict with the public’s right to know if the criminal justice system is run in a fair and responsible fashion?
Students should choose one of these three topics to answer in their essays. The essays must be at least 400 words but no more than 600 words and emailed no later than March 31, 2016 to firstname.lastname@example.org. Winners will be announced by May 16.
If you know a high school student who enjoys writing, suggest they enter the CFOG contest.