The Connecticut Foundation for Open Government is pleased to announce its 2024 Forrest Palmer High School Essay Contest with a first prize of $1,000, a second prize of $500, a third prize of $300 and honorable mention prizes of $50.

CFOG sponsors this contest to encourage debate among students on First Amendment issues. The contest is named in honor of the late Forrest Palmer, who began the contest in 2000 when he was president of CFOG’s board of directors.

The essay topics for the 2024 contest are:

  1. The UConn campus in Storrs features several “spirit rocks” – large boulders than students paint, often with messages of school pride. But in the fall, the rocks took on a distinctly political air, with students on opposite sides of the Middle East conflict painting (and painting over) messages alternately supporting Israel and Palestinians. University officials considered moving the main rock to a less visible location, and some advocated removing the rock entirely to avoid further tension in the community. If you were president of UConn, what would your policy be regarding the spirit rocks?
  2. Last winter, the children’s department of the Kent Memorial Library in Suffield featured a display on kindness that included a book on pronouns titled “What are Your Words?” After a resident complained, Suffield’s First Selectman ordered the book removed from the display while allowing it to remain in the library, saying that was a fair balance of competing interests. Critics called it censorship that targeted a marginalized group, and the library director later resigned, citing ongoing interference by town officials. How should towns respond to requests to remove books from displays in public libraries? And what role, if any, should libraries play in highlighting controversial topics that some in town consider objectionable or inappropriate?
  3. A Christian evangelical group sponsors an after-school “Good News Club” at Lebanon Elementary School, spreading the Gospel to students who choose to attend. In response, the Massachusetts-based Satanic Temple received permission to start the “After School Satan Club” at the school. With the motto “Educatin’ with Satan,” the group presents itself as an alternative to religious outfits that proselytize to students. They say they are not devil worshippers, but rather promote rational and scientific inquiry. Some parents have signed their children up, while others have denounced the group as “evil.” Should the After School Satan Club be permitted to use the elementary school building? What limits, if any, should be placed on religious – or anti-religious – groups that want to meet in public buildings?

Students should choose one of these three topics to address. Essays should be 400-600 words, and emailed no later than March 29, 2024, to cfogessay@gmail.com. Essays should include the student’s full name, school, grade, and email contact for either the student or a teacher. Winners will be announced in mid-May.

This is a terrific opportunity to have students deeply ponder important and timely Constitutional issues. A well-written piece could also serve as a college-application essay, and being selected as one of the winners could certainly boost a student’s post-graduation plans. Multiple winning essays last year were reprinted by Connecticut news outlets.

A flier with information on the contest is available at https://bit.ly/CFOG2024Essay. For any questions, send an email to cfogessay@gmail.com.