Announcing the 2017 Law Student Writing Competition

2017 Founders First Freedom Law Student Writing Competition

Deadline: June 23, 2017


  1. Although there is a potential mootness issue that arose just prior to the April 19, 2017 oral arguments, participants are requested to set that issue aside and write on the merits of the case.
  2. The case has been recaptioned Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer. Either caption (Pauley or Comer) is acceptable for the purposes of this competition.
  3. It is not necessary to address the oral arguments in your paper and doing so will not add to or detract from the total points.


Founders First Freedom is pleased to announce our first annual Law Student Writing Competition.

The competition is open to current J.D. and L.L.M. students who are enrolled in law schools in the United States, including students who graduate in the spring of 2017. The writer of the first place entry will be awarded $1,500 and the writer of the second place entry will be awarded $750. All winning entries and selected runner-ups will be posted on the Founders First Freedom website.


In January 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States granted a writ of certiorari in the case of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Pauley (Docket No. 15-577). Although the parties and numerous amici have submitted briefs, the Court has not yet assigned a date for oral argument. The question for this essay contest is identical to the “Questions Presented Report.”   (See )

Question Presented

Trinity Lutheran Church applied for Missouri’s Scrap Tire Grant Program so that it could provide a safer playground for children who attend its daycare and for neighborhood children who use the playground after hours–a purely secular matter. But the state denied Trinity’s application solely because it is a church. The Eighth Circuit affirmed that denial by equating a grant to resurface Trinity’s playground using scrap tire material with funding the devotional training of clergy. The Eighth Circuit’s decision was not faithful to this Court’s ruling in Locke v. Davey, 540 U.S. 712 (2004), and deepened an existing circuit conflict. Three lower courts–two courts of appeals and one state supreme court–interpret Locke as justifying the exclusion of religion from a neutral aid program where no valid Establishment Clause concern exists. In contrast, two courts of appeals remain faithful to Locke and the unique historical concerns on which it relied.

The question presented is: Whether the exclusion of churches from an otherwise neutral and secular aid program violates the Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses when the state has no valid Establishment Clause concern.

Writing Task

Draft a model “Supreme Court majority opinion” addressing the issue before the Court in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley.  Keep in mind that the “question presented” was drafted by the attorneys for Trinity Lutheran Church in the “Petition for a Writ of Certiorari” and makes legal and factual assumptions that were rebutted by the respondent and addressed by amici. Arguments presented therein should not be considered authoritative.

The document should weigh both sides of the argument and reach a persuasive conclusion. Winners will not be determined based on their conclusions, but rather on the strength of the reasoning. If the Supreme Court issues a ruling in advance of the conclusion of the competition, it will not affect the judging in this competition.


The primary documents in the case are the briefs of the petitioner and respondent.  Secondary documents are the amicus briefs. You may reference any relevant case law.

Many of the briefs are accessible at

Eligibility Rules

Submissions must be original works of publishable quality written by a student currently enrolled full- or part-time in a law school in the United States and those graduating in the spring of 2017.

Entries may be adapted from a student’s coursework, and participants are encouraged to communicate with professors and others for assistance but the work presented must be the student’s original work.

Citations and Footnotes

All submissions must comply with the current Harvard Law Review Association’s Bluebook Uniform of Citation and in conformity with legal briefs and Supreme Court opinions as opposed to research papers, in-text case citations are preferred to footnotes or endnotes. However, footnotes may be used for explanatory asides in the tradition of the Court.


Entries should be submitted electronically in Microsoft Word or a compatible format, double-spaced in 12-point type with a 1 to 1.5″ margin. The first page should be a title page with the name of the law student, and the name of their law school. Students who wish to acknowledge the assistance of a faculty member or other person may identify them on the title page. No personally identifying information should appear on the subsequent pages for purposes of neutrality in judging.

A word count of 2,000 to 3,500 words is suggested although shorter or longer documents may be considered. Word count does not include footnotes.


Articles will be judged by a panel of law professors and attorneys.

Winning essays will be persuasive, adequately researched and properly supported by citations, well organized and articulate, and demonstrate an understanding of both sides of the issues.


Submissions must be received by 5:00 p.m. PST on June 23, 2017. The winner will be announced by August 25, 2017.

Submit documents via email to

Founders First Freedom is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that exists to promote quality education and scholarship in matters involving the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.