W. Cole Durham, Jr., Director of ICLRS and Susa Young Gates Professor of Law at the J. Reuben Clark Law School, traveled to Virginia on January 15, 2009, to accept the prestigious International First Freedom Award. Each year, the Richmond-based First Freedom Center selects one recipient for each of three awards: the International First Freedom Award, the National First Freedom Award, and the Virginia First Freedom Award. These awards are intended to recognize the recipients’ work in advancing the freedom of conscience and belief, and basic human rights for people from all faiths, cultures, and traditions. Former recipients of the First Freedom awards include then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and former Czech President Vaclav Havel. Isabelle Kinnard, vice president for education at the First Freedom Center, stated, “We were delighted to honor Cole with this international recognition. Cole truly stands out amongst a group of esteemed internationalists as an exemplar for the international protection and growth of religious freedom.”
More than 300 people attended the awards dinner on January 15. Those present included national and local community leaders in the areas of government, civil, religion, and business, along with scholars of freedom of religion or belief and constitutional law. One attendee, commenting on Professor Durham, stated “Although a man of many accomplishments, Cole remains humble. It is, perhaps, that gracious humility that has opened so many doors and hearts in countries worldwide.” Accepting the award, Professor Durham discussed a trip that he took in 2005, when he spent the summer in Baghdad consulting the Iraqi government as they wrote their current constitution. Explaining that “I had never before been asked to put my life on the line for the principles in which I believed,” Professor Durham said this experience resulted in an even deeper appreciation of both the importance of freedom of religion or belief and of the people who have worked so hard to protect these fundamental human rights. “Perhaps most importantly,” Professor Durham continued, “I became convinced at a deeper level than ever before that religious freedom is a principle that is indeed worth risking one’s life for. I learned a new level of respect for so many who have given so much for the principle we honor tonight.” Professor Durham lives his life by the principle that John Locke articulated more than 300 years ago: If nations protected the rights of religious minorities, they would be rewarded with loyal citizens grateful for the freedom to practice their beliefs. With this goal in mind, he has spent the last 20 years advising governments on both constitutions and laws dealing with freedom of religion or belief; authoring, contributing and editing hundreds of books, articles, and international training and reference materials; founding and directing the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University; traveling to and hosting international and national conferences on the freedom of religion or belief; and mentoring and teaching future attorneys and scholars of freedom of religion or belief. It is this tireless work to ensure all people of all faiths, cultures, traditions, and persuasions the right of freedom of religion or belief that causes those who meet him exclaim, as did Ms. Kinnard of the First Freedom Center, “Cole is really in a world-class category all his own.”
To read Professor Durham’s acceptance speech as planned, click here. To read the Deseret News article, click here. To read the LDS Church News article, click here. To read Richmond Times-Dispatch article, click here. To view the awards dinner videos, click here. Image taken from First Freedom Center website.