As a senior at Wilde Lake High School last year, Daniel Ingham applied for a lot of scholarships. He admits that what first attracted him to the Baptist Joint Committee's Religious Liberty Essay Scholarship was the winnings – a $2,000 grand prize.
The topic, he discovered, was pretty interesting, too.
For its eighth scholarship contest, the Baptist Joint Committee's 2014 essay question asked students to discuss whether or not religious messages, such as Bible verses on "run-through" banners at football games, should be permitted at public school events.
According to the Committee's website, more than 637 submissions from 48 states, the District of Columbia, China and Albania were received.
"This year's essay contest was highly opinionated and competitive," Charles Watson Jr., education and outreach specialist for BJC said in an email. "Students from across the nation were really engaged to write on an issue that is closely related to their high school experience."
"I wasn't really aware of the issue before," Ingham said, though he quickly became hooked as the current event had him delving into old court cases and the principles that built America. "I did a lot of research and read up about the issue."
The court cases he talks about in his essay, "Run-Through Banners and Religious References: Exploring the Rights and Responsibilities Afforded in the First Amendment" all "were really kind of old," he said, dating back 100 years.
"It's amazing," he said. "The court cases were so valuable ... to today and it all happened so long ago."
In his paper, Ingham concluded that the banners should not be permitted. He believes the banners do not display the "ideals America was founded on," especially the right to practice or not practice a religion.
"It is easy to assume that it is OK," Ingham said of the banners. "The banners infringe on that at a public school. It is the government showing preference of religion.
"By the end of it, it was not just about the scholarship opportunity," Ingham said of his paper. "I felt good about it, well-informed and really proud of it. I could stand by it."
Watson wrote that Ingham's essay "showed a consistent theme throughout his writing. He did a great job of talking through the issue and substantiating his points by referencing previously decided court cases."
Support from English teachers
Ingham gives credit to Wilde Lake High School's English department. While the staff there did not directly help him write the essay, the time he spent in classes and on papers helped prepare him.
"I spent a lot of time in the English Department of Wilde Lake," Ingham said. "They indirectly helped me write that essay. They've been great supporters."
The Essay Scholarship Contest, Watson wrote, is an essential part of the BJC's effort to educate younger generations about the importance of religious liberty.
"The essay contest is one of our educational platforms that helps us make sure that the principle of religious liberty for all never ends," Watson wrote.
Now a freshman at Providence College in Rhode Island, Ingham has not yet decided a major, though he enjoys both English and history.
"I am lucky enough to be here at Providence," Ingham said. "They have such a wide array of classes. I can pick and choose what I want to do over the next year and a half ... to make an informed decision where I will be headed with my life. I have a couple decisions ahead of me. I'll take one step at a time."
In October, the Baptist Joint Committee will fly Ingham to Washington, where he will read his essay to the BJC board meeting.
"I would just like to express my gratitude and say thank you once again ... for giving me this scholarship ... helping giving me the opportunity to go to this college," Ingram said. "The money really does help. I am very grateful."