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Students offer insights on freedom of speech in annual civics education essay contest

Students offer insights on freedom of speech in annual civics education essay contest

May 10, 2023 -- Students from across the country shared their views on the First Amendment during NCSC’s 2023 Civics Education Essay Contest.

For the past 10 years, NCSC has challenged youth to reflect on topics related to civics education and the U.S. Constitution. The 2023 contest posed two age-appropriate questions inquiring about free speech situations where the authorities are needed to keep the peace and whether a student can be held to the same standard when exercising their right to freedom of speech on or off school property.

“This year, we really wanted students to appreciate the important connection that civics, civility and collaboration play in our democracy,” said NCSC President Mary. C. McQueen. “Their essays reflect an increased understanding of these founding principles and will prepare them to assume an active role in our democratic republic.”

Phoebe Wang, the first-place high school winner from California, believes schools should be able to punish students for reported online harassment, defamation, and dangerous threats.

“Students are protected by the law. They are not above the law. Students’ rights to free expression should be held in all settings when it encourages civil discourse, generates diverse opinions, and protects individual thoughts. However, this does not equal free reign but limited freedom that balances one’s right to safety and education against another’s freedom of speech. The key is maximizing both,” she wrote.

Other first-place winners include middle schooler An Nguyen from Utah and Florida elementary school student Larissa Karpeles.

The contest attracted 1,700 students from 45 states and Puerto Rico. Essay scoring ranked the student’s understanding of the topic, creativity, grammar, spelling and style. The nine winners will receive cash prizes totaling $3,000.

Essays were blind judged by NCSC staff, volunteer attorneys and a finalist panel with NCSC Board Chair and Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta H. Rush and Karon LeCompte, Ph.D., of the iEngage Summer Civics Institute at Baylor University and 2022 recipient of NCSC’s Sandra Day O’Connor Award for the Advancement of Civics Education.

For a complete list of winners and to read the winning essays, visit

Court of Appeals of Indiana recognized with 2023 Sandra Day O’Connor Award for the Advancement of Civics Education

For decades, judges sitting on the Court of Appeals of Indiana have made a point to meet citizens “where they’re at” – whether that is in schools, retirement homes, conference centers or other community venues in the state’s 92 counties.

The breadth and scope of the court’s Appeals on Wheels program has earned recognition as the 2023 recipient of NCSC’s Sandra Day O’Connor Award for the Advancement of Civics Education.

Named after retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the award honors an organization, court, program, or individual who has promoted, inspired, improved, or led an innovation or accomplishment in the field of civics education related to the justice system. The award will be presented to the Court of Appeals of Indiana this summer during the annual conference of the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators.

Since 2000, the court has held more than 650 traveling oral arguments – including 20 sessions in early 2023. Not only do attendees have an opportunity to observe an actual court proceeding, but they also have a chance to meet the judges and learn more about the judicial branch.