The competition involves students choosing a historical event and then developing a presentation to address the historical content of the event. Students may present a historical drama, produce a documentary, deliver a speech, recite a dramatic reading, sing or play a musical selection, create an exhibit, enact a debate, or create a combination of presentation styles into one presentation. It must be historically accurate and demonstrate the same expressed meaning (intent and belief) of the original Americans of a past historical event. Students must be sensitive and honorable to the context, purpose, style of delivery, historical setting, political impact, and religious significance of historical events or figures.

Foundations of Freedom offers K-12 students an academic incentive program in a competitive format that promotes and celebrates America’s heritage of its freedoms. It assists students in their understanding of American history and in their demonstration of various communication skills, while it increases their awareness of First Amendment rights. It is designed to assist knowledgeable, skilled, creative, and enthusiastic educators by supporting academic achievement and encouraging educational reform in regard to students’ understanding of their given freedoms and the role religion has played in the creation and maintenance of First Amendment freedoms within American history.

Students may enter Foundations of Freedom contests through their local school or community. Winners in each category and division at the local levels then advance to state contests, and then to the national contest level. At every level, a panel of judges consisting of teachers, history professors, public historians, religious leaders, or experts in a particular field (including media, musical, literary, judicial, public speaking, and oral debate) evaluate the entries and provide constructive feedback to the students.

The participating students are usually under the supervision of community members, teachers or other educators, or family members.  The stages of their research projects include:

  • Selecting a topic and creating a research plan. Advisors must make sure that student topics are related to the annual theme and that students can explain the significance of their topics in history. Students must set goals, form hypotheses, and create thesis statements or questions to guide their research and entry development.
  • Researching their topic (entry). Students become historians by mastering historical knowledge and developing thinking skills that transfer to their project and its religious importance. They may research secondary and primary sources, conduct oral interviews, contact experts for understanding and more sources—to understand the religious significance.
  • Developing the original historical interpretation. They must analyze and synthesize the information they have discovered in their primary sources (construct an accurate historical understanding)—organizing their material chronologically or topically. The interpretation should place their subject into a historically accurate context that includes its intellectual, physical, social, cultural, and religious aspects. Their historical perspective on their topic should explain and relate their topic (entry) to religious expressions and beliefs while reinforcing the historical significance of freedom of religion.
  • Creating and presenting their entry. Students must choose a category that is the most appropriate way of presenting their research and a historically accurate interpretation.

The Format

Foundations of Freedoms is a yearly program that focuses on the history of religious freedoms, expressions, and beliefs by challenging students in grades K-12 to improve their knowledge, understanding, and arguments for the freedom of religion, and the expressions thereof, in American culture. Furthermore, it is designed to improve students’ research, analytical, and communication skills as they develop their particular entry in the competition program.

Each year a theme is selected, and working individually, in pairs, or in groups, students conduct research on topics related to that theme. The search for primary and secondary sources leads students to libraries, archives, historical societies, and museums; many may conduct oral history interviews. They then present their findings (historical research) through historical readings or recitations, museum-style exhibits, dramatic performances, debates, musical pieces/selections, multimedia documentaries, or a combination of these categories in a competitively formatted program.