First Amendment Studies

The University of Texas at Austin

Freedom of Speech Essay Contest


Submission Deadline - March 9, 2020



  • First Prize - $1500
  • Second Prize - $1000
  • Third Prize - $700


  • All undergraduate students at The University of Texas at Austin, regardless of their area of study.
  • Students who may have participated in previous years’ versions of this contest are eligible, regardless of whether they won a prize.


  • Essays must be between 1600-2000 words in length.
  • Essays must be original, unpublished work of one student; only one essay per student may be submitted.
  • Essays must identify which question (of the two options) you are answering and must be typed in 12-point font in English, double-spaced, with 1-inch margins and numbered pages.
  • Submissions will be judged anonymously. Identifying information is requested on the accompanying Entry Form (see below), but no identifying references, such as your name or professors’ names, should appear in your essay.

Choose between the following 2 topics

1 - Transparency versus Privacy – and the Ramifications for Freedom of Speech - In the name of transparency, many people contend that certain information ought to be made public. In debates over campaign finance restrictions, for instance, people demand mandatory disclosure of donors; in other settings, people demand the membership lists of organizations (e.g., the NRA, NAACP, groups supporting and opposing gay rights). At the same time, people often invoke privacy to demand control over information about themselves that is made public.

From the perspective of freedom of speech, which is it? In order to fully respect freedom of speech, what types of transparency (disclosure), if any, should be legally mandated, and what types of privacy (control over information), if any, should be legally protected? Is balance the solution? If so, balance of what sort? In explaining, be sure to address robust arguments from those who hold opposing views.

2 - Speech Contrasted with Action - Consider the language of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” 

The Constitution contains no comparable provision pledging that Congress shall make ‘no law abridging the freedom of action.’ Why not? What’s so special about speech? Is it different from the broader category of action in ways that warrant this special legal protection?



  • Entries may be either hand delivered or physically mailed. No e-mailed or texted or faxed entries will be accepted
  • Provide four stapled copies of your essay, along with a completed and signed Entry Form.
  • Mailed essays must be postmarked by 9 a.m. on Monday, March 9, 2020.
  • Hand-delivered essays must be submitted by 9 a.m. on Monday, March 9, 2020.

NB: Entries that do not comply with all of the above rules will be excluded.

Mailing Address:

UT Freedom of Speech Essay Contest
Department of Philosophy
University of Texas at Austin
2210 Speedway, Stop C3500
Austin, Texas 78712

Drop Off Locations for Hand Delivery:

Waggener (WAG) 231 – please slide under the door

Waggener (WAG) 316 – Mailbox for Roxy Becker - Note: this office is only open Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm

Please note that no materials will be returned.

Questions? Contact Roxy Becker at


Most recent prize winning essays - 

2019 Essay by Zak Turner

2019 Essay by Laura Hallas

2019 Essay by Carolyn Plein

2018 Essay by Carina Reyes

2018 Essay by Lizzy Tan

2018 Essay by John Gonzales

2017 Essay by Shishir Jessu

2017 Essay by Jessica Hemann


Sponsored by the BB&T Chair for the Study of Objectivism and the Department of Philosophy