"The 2009 Alma Don Sorensen Contest Winning Essays:
Introductory Comments"

Editorial Board, SquareTwo

SquareTwo, Vol. 2 No. 3 (Fall 2009)






            In a recent talk given at BYU-Idaho, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, commenting upon the participation of religious believers in the public square, noted, "religious persons will often be most persuasive in political discourse by framing arguments and positions in ways that are respectful of those who do not share their religious beliefs and that contribute to the reasoned discussion and compromise that is essential in a pluralistic society." [1] We at SquareTwo could not agree more. However, SquareTwo has noticed in the younger generation of the LDS Church a certain inability to articulate truths in language that does not presume a particular religious viewpoint.  While comfortable talking with other LDS members about the moral stands they take with reference to the pressing issues facing the world today, they have, generally speaking, not developed the skill discussed by Elder Oaks. As a result, this often leaves our young people inarticulate when discussing their moral stands with persons not of the LDS faith.  Not only does this inarticulateness leave them unpersuasive to their peers, or even silent in the public square, it may also leave them persuadable that their own positions are indefensible.

            Alma Don Sorensen, professor of political philosophy at Brigham Young University for almost 30 years, excelled at explicating truths in a manner understandable to both LDS and non-LDS persons.  His writings on freedom, equality, and law—though based firmly in an LDS perspective—were (indeed, still are) always expressed in terms that did not presuppose adherence to a religious worldview, for in his view truth lights a spark of understanding in all persons, regardless of religious affiliation. In creating the Alma Don Sorensen Essay Contest, then, we explicitly hoped to encourage the emulation of this special and important skill in our younger generation.

We are deeply grateful for the involvment of the Eagle Foundation, which provided prize money for the top three contestants. The first prize was $1000, the second prize was $500, and the third prize was $300. We decided to publish the top ten essays chosen by the judges in the Fall 2009 issue of SquareTwo.

For 2009, the essay topic for the contest was, Resolved: Heterosexual monogamous marriage should be privileged by the state above all other possible gender arrangements or household partnerships. The contest was open to all LDS youth, aged 15-30.

The contestants had to craft their essays within a set of specified rules. These included: "No appeal to the authority of scripture of any variety, or to religious authorities of any denomination, or to the authority of historical figures, may be made. While you may use illustrative quotes from such sources, such quotes cannot be used as if they were authoritative on the subject or could settle the argument you are trying to make."

Furthermore, if appeals to scientific authority were made in the essay, the judges were instructed to expressly look to see, a) if any misinterpretation of results occurred, or b) if any cherry-picking of certain studies that support the author's proposition (while ignoring other studies on the same topic that contradict the former) occurred.

The contestants were told that the audience for the essay should be considered to be a non-LDS person who may or may not hold any religious beliefs.

Last, we instructed the contestants that since the topic made reference to state privileging of heterosexual monogamous marriage, this element of state involvement must be explicitly addressed in the essay.

This was a pretty stiff challenge, and we were heartened that many took up the task and gave it their best shot. Special thanks goes to our panel of 3 judges--who were also aged 15-30--for giving the submitted essays such a careful review. The judges made independent rankings, which were then combined to produce an overall ranking. As noted above, the top ten essays are published in this special issue of SquareTwo. The winners, along with three honorable mentions, are:

First Place: Aimee Farnsworth of Wasilla, Alaska
Second Place: Anonymous of Provo, Utah
Third Place: Brandon Dabling of Centerville, Utah
Fourth Place: Grady Killian of Provo, Utah
Fifth Place: Analiesa Leonhardt of Baraboo, Wisconsin
Sixth Place: Jacob Fox of Leesburg, Virginia
Seventh Place: Vanessa Nielsen of Colonia Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico
Eighth Place: Rebekah Butterfield of Provo, Utah
Ninth Place: Rebecca Perez of Lewiston, Idaho
Tenth Place: Maren Perkins of Provo, Utah
Honorable Mention: Michael Morris of Spanish Fork, Utah
Honorable Mention: Stephen Cranney of Provo, Utah
Honorable Mention: Kendra Arguello of Provo, Utah

We are very pleased to provide a forum for these essays, and congratulate the winners for their efforts! And now we invite our readers to take look and judge for themselves the quality of the winning essays . . . Which one is your favorite? Let us know!



[1] Dallin H. Oaks, "Religious Freedom," talk given at BYU-Idaho on 13 October 2009. http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/news-releases-stories/religious-freedom#_edn5%23_edn5 . [Back to manuscript]


Full Citation for This Article: "The 2009 Alma Don Sorensen Contest Winning Essays: Introductory Comments," (2009) SquareTwo, Vol. 2 No. 3 (Fall), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleSorensenContestIntroduction.html, accessed [give access date].

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