First Amendment Studies

The University of Texas at Austin

2021 Freedom of Speech Essay Contest


NEW Deadline - March 12, 2021


  • 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  • Essays must be original, unpublished work of one student; only one essay per student may be submitted.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

Propriety of respecting freedom of speech:

Frederick Douglass wrote that, “To suppress speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.”  ("A Plea for Free Speech in Boston," 1860)

Do you agree? Explore the ramifications of this claim. Who is hurt, when a person’s freedom of speech is denied, and in exactly what ways? What broader conclusions would you draw (if any) about the propriety of respecting freedom of speech?

Government vs. Private:

On the difference between government silencing and private pressure:

The First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting individuals’ freedom of speech. Should private parties (such as individuals, businesses, or activist organizations) be under the same prohibition? If so, is their freedom of speech restricted? If, alternatively, private parties should not be under the same prohibition, how should they exercise their freedom? When is it appropriate, for instance, for private parties to put pressure on others’ speech by organizing a boycott or banning certain speech from a platform?



  • Entries must be submitted electronically as WORD documents, in attachments to email sent to: Roxy Becker at 

Caution: no formats other than WORD; no attachments to texts, etc.

  • Also attach a completed and signed Entry Form.
  • Emails must be sent by midnight on Friday March 12, 2021.

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

Questions? Contact Roxy Becker at


Congratulations to the 2020 Winners

Matthew Shuirman

Carolyn Plein

Mia Goldstein


A Sampling of 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