Free Speech Essay Contest

Thank you to everyone who entered this year’s contest! View this year’s winners.

The Details



Open to juniors and seniors in U.S. high schools, including home-schooled students, as well as U.S. citizens attending schools overseas. Additional questions regarding eligibility may be emailed to

Word Length

Word Length

Students must submit an essay between 700 and 900 words on the provided topic below.



FIRE must receive all entries by 11:59 EST, December 31, 2019. Winners will be announced by February 15, 2020.

Scholarship Prizes

Scholarship Prizes

One $10,000 first prize, one $5,000 second prize, three $1,000 third place prizes and four $500 prizes will be awarded.

Before You Start

Get to know us! The mission of FIRE is to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience—the essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity. In addition to defending the rights of students and faculty, FIRE works to educate students and the general public on the necessity of free speech and its importance to a thriving democratic society.

The freedom of speech, enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution, is a foundational American right. Nowhere is that right more important than on our college campuses, where the free flow of ideas and the clash of opposing views advance knowledge and promote human progress. It is on our college campuses, however, where some of the most serious violations of free speech occur, and where students are regularly censored simply because their expression might offend others.

We also encourage you to take advantage of our other educational resources, including our First Amendment Library, our continually-updated Newsdesk, and our many publications, including our Guide to Free Speech on Campus.

Review our New Free Speech Comic

You can read it online here for free, download it, or order a free copy to be mailed to you.  Note: We remain happy to continue mailing copies of our free speech comic to all essay contestants who request them, while supplies last. However, please bear in mind that, as we near the end of the contest and holiday shipping increases, your copy might not reach you immediately. For this reason, we have provided an online viewer and a downloadable PDF version on this page so that you are able to review the comic and prepare your essay without having to wait for a physical version to arrive.

Finding Your Voice

The Prompt

Towards the beginning of “Finding Your Voice: A Free Speech Comic,” Jeremy, one of the main characters, expresses uncertainty with regard to his feelings about an event at his high school addressing school violence. How might the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech help an unsure student like Jeremy to develop more informed opinions on this and other topics? 

Your essay must be between 700-900 words. We encourage you to draw from our comic, other resources on FIRE’s website, current events, and your personal experiences. 

Note: While there is no required format for your submission, many entrants use MLA guidelines and write essays that are similar in style to newspaper opinion pieces. Successful entries will show an understanding of the importance of the First Amendment on college and university campuses. You may use in-text citations, and do not need to include a References or Works Cited page. Essays that do not address the prompt question or fail to meet the word-count requirements will not be considered. View the essays of some of our past winners here!


Entering this contest constitutes agreement to having your name and essay published on FIRE’s website if you are selected as a winner. FIRE reserves the right to make minor edits to winning essays before publication on our website.

The 2019 Essay Contest is now closed. Thank you to everyone who submitted entries! Winners will be announced by February 15, 2020 and the next Essay Contest will open in September 2020.