2018 CFOG Essay Contest Winners

May 15, 2018
Contact: Mary Connolly
CFOG Essay Contest Chair

Greenwich, West Haven, Northwestern Regional students
win top prizes; honorable mentions to six schools


Naomi Kostman, a junior at Greenwich High School, has won the first prize of $1,000 in this year’s Connecticut Foundation for Open Government high school essay contest.

She wrote about First Amendment protections for National Football League players who kneel during the national anthem as a protest against racial inequality and police treatment of minorities.

“The First Amendment protects the right of NFL players to kneel during the playing of the national anthem due to government involvement, legal precedent governing national symbols, and the presence of racial tensions …,” she wrote. “Any attempt by the NFL to punish players who choose to kneel during the anthem would be a direct infringement on the First Amendment, as such punitive actions can be arguably a result of government pressure.”

CFOG, a nonprofit educational organization, sponsors the essay contest each year to encourage thought and debate among students on public and freedom of information issues and to increase student knowledge of the value of open government in a democratic society.

A second prize of $500 was won by Briance Ramirez, a junior at West Haven High School. Briance wrote about whether the First Amendment protects a baker’s decision not to make a cake for a same-sex couple, a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“(Jack) Phillips claims that he can legally refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple because his religion condemns homosexuality and his refusal is protected constitutionally,” Briance wrote. “However, the First Amendment does not give someone the right to oppose another based on sexual orientation and the Colorado Civil Rights law helps protect minority civil rights and ensure nondiscrimination.”

A third prize of $300 was won by Adam Choquette, a senior at Northwestern Regional High School in Winsted, who also wrote about the NFL/anthem issue.

“Clearly, the courts have ruled that the First Amendment does not protect players from being fired by a private employer, but that does not mean that the NFL will be able to fire players with ease, nor does it mean that such firing conforms to the spirit of the Constitution,” Adam wrote. “NFL players are not hired at will, but rather according to the terms of the contract which they sign with their team’s owner.”

Honorable mention awards of $50 went to Ashley Brown and Hannah Scheyder of East Lyme High School, Ariba Chaudhry of Amity Regional High School in Woodbridge, Sumedha Chowdhury and Emily Golding of West Haven High School, Kenneth Cox of Engineering and Science University Magnet High School in West Haven, Christopher McDonnell of Greenwich High School, and Henry Vanase of Norwich Free Academy.

Students were asked to write essays on one of three topics:

  1. After a student-organized speech, “It is OK to be White,” ended in a shouting and shoving match, University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst proposed new rules for speakers and events on campus. Safety concerns and the background of speakers and their affiliates will have to be evaluated under the rules. Does this hamper free expression on campus?
  2. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case involving a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, citing his religious beliefs. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission found the baker violated the state’s anti-discrimination law. Does the First Amendment protect the baker’s decision not to make a cake for a same-sex couple?
  3. Does the First Amendment protect the right of National Football League players to kneel during the national anthem as a protest against racial inequality and police treatment of minorities?

Judges for the contest were Janet Manko, Martin Margulies, Tom Crider, Lyn Hottes, Forrest Palmer, Eileen FitzGerald and Mary Connolly.