Annual Essay Contest for High School Students

The Connecticut Foundation for Open Government is pleased to announce its 2023 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 is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the open accountable government essential in a democratic society. Our foundation 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 2023 contest are:

  1. During the last academic year, 138 school districts in 32 states banned more than 1,600 book titles, according to PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans. Among books removed or restricted from school libraries and curricula, the most common themes were works involving LGBTQ+ characters, or characters of color. Proponents say they are protecting young people from harmful content. Critics see censorship aimed at promoting a distorted and exclusionary world view. Who should decide which books are available for students to read, and how should those decisions be made?


  1. There’s an old expression (misattributed to Mark Twain and Winston Churchill) that “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” With the advent of social media, lies travel even faster, leading to a great deal of misinformation and disinformation amplified online. What responsibility, if any, do private social-media companies have to police the accuracy of their users’ content, and what role, if any, do governments have in regulating social sites? Does the importance of free expression outweigh the dangers of misinformation? Nearly a century ago, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote that as a general rule, the solution for false speech was “more speech, not enforced silence.” Is that the right remedy?


  1. During Trans Awareness Week in November, the student chapter of Turning Point USA, a conservative group that says its mission is to train and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets and limited government, aired a watch party at Central Connecticut State University of “What Is A Woman,” a film by conservative commentator Matt Walsh. About 100 students and faculty members protested the airing of the film, which they said is transphobic, at a university-sanctioned event. While calling the premise of the film, “odious,’’ CCSU President Zulma Toro wrote that under the First Amendment, a public university can’t suppress speech because of an anticipated audience reaction. She added, “we must remind ourselves that silencing a few will only serve, ultimately, to silence us all.” In your essay, explore whether you agree with the president or disagree, and explain why.

Students should choose one of these three topics to address. Essays should be 400-600 words, and emailed no later than March 31, 2023, 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.

Schools across Connecticut have been participating in the essay contest for more than twenty years. “The CFOG essay contest is outstanding,” said Mark Consorte, chair of the social studies department at West Haven High School. “My AP U.S. Government & Politics classes participate every year. The essay prompts are always intriguing and force students to examine hot button legal issues that raise constitutional questions.”

A flier describing the contest is available at https://bit.ly/CFOG2023Essay and can be posted or distributed to students.

For questions, contact us at cfogessay@gmail.com.