News Story

Professor Advocates Religious Freedom

At the annual banquet of the First Freedom Center, Brigham Young University law professor, W. Cole Durham Jr. was awarded the 2009 International First Freedom Award for extraordinary advocacy of religious freedom. 

In presenting the award, First Freedom Center trustee James Standish said through reason, insightful analysis and prolonged persuasion, Durham has had a tremendous impact.

“Today millions of people live better, freer, happier lives because of Cole’s work to spread religious freedom. And, at the end of the day, making individuals’ lives better is the measure of all we do,” Standish said.

More than 300 religious, civic and corporate leaders attended the January 15th event.  Durham was selected for the honor by his peers in religious freedom and constitutional law.

“Cole truly stands out amongst a group of esteemed internationalists as an exemplar for the protection of religious freedom,” said Isabelle Kinnard, vice president for education at the First Freedom Center. “He has helped countries from around the world make religious freedom constitutionally protected.”

“I learned something fundamental about this heritage the summer I went to Iraq to work on the Iraqi constitution,” said Durham in his acceptance speech.  “I had never before been asked to put my life on the line for principles in which I believed.  I realized many things as a result of this experience.  Perhaps most importantly 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.”

“(The principle of freedom of religion or belief) often overlaps with other rights, such as freedom of expression, freedom of association, rights to non-discrimination, rights to protection of an intimate or private sphere, but its sum is greater than any of these individual parts,” said Durham.

Durham is the editor and author of numerous books on religious liberty.  He also advises governments around the world on laws dealing with religious freedom and religious associations. He has been actively involved in consultations on laws in many countries, including Albania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Nepal, Peru, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Thailand, and Ukraine.

As the Susa Young Gates University Professor of Law and Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at the J. Reuben Clarke Law School, Durham demonstrates a genuine commitment to religious freedom as a civil liberty.  The 11th Article of Faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a framework for religious freedom for all churches:

We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

In proclaiming Religious Freedom Day, President George W. Bush says, “Our Nation was founded by people seeking haven from religious persecution, and the religious liberty they found here remains one of this land’s greatest blessings.  As Americans, we believe that all people have inherent dignity and worth.  Though we may profess different creeds and worship in different manners and places, we respect each others humanity and expression of faith.  People with diverse views can practice their faiths here while living together in peace and harmony, carrying on our Nation’s noble tradition of religious freedom.”

"I feel highly honored to receive this award, because of my familiarity with the excellent work done by the First Freedom Center,” said Durham. “I am particularly humbled to receive this recognition in light of those who have been so honored in the past.”

Fifteen years ago, January 16th was set aside by President George Herbert Walker Bush to commemorate the adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.  Since then, such notables as former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair have also been recognized as champions of religious freedom.

The First Freedom Center is a non-political, non-denominational, not-for-profit organization.  For 25 years they have worked to increase worldwide understanding and respect for religious freedom.

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