January 9, 2008 16:22 Age: 6 yrs

Witte to Receive 2008 National First Freedom Award

John Witte, Jr.

John Witte, Jr., Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law and director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, will receive the 2008 National First Freedom Award for his contributions to advancing religious liberty in the United States. The award is being presented January 16 by the Council for America’s First Freedom at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia.

Witte was selected for his “extraordinary commitment to the preservation and protection of the principles of religious freedom,” said Ambassador Robert A. Seiple, Council president. Upon his acceptance of the award, Witte will deliver brief remarks titled the “Superstition of Church and State in America.”

“The metaphor of the ‘wall of separation’ between church and state has held popular imagination so firmly that many have not noticed that separation of church and state is no longer the law of the land in America,” Witte said.

A specialist in legal history, marriage, and religious liberty, Witte holds a law degree from Harvard University and has published 150 articles, 10 journal symposia, and 21 books. Recent book titles include: Law and Protestantism: The Legal Teachings of the Lutheran Reformation; Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment; The Teachings of Modern Christianity on Law, Politics, and Human Nature; and The Reformation of Rights: Law, Religion, and Human Rights in Early Modern Calvinism.

Witte’s writings have appeared in 10 languages, and he has lectured and convened conferences throughout North America, Western Europe, Israel, Japan, and South Africa. With major funding from the Ford, Luce, Lilly, McDonald, and Pew foundations, Witte has directed two dozen major projects on issues of democracy, human rights, and religious freedom; sex, marriage, family, and children; and Christian Jurisprudence. These projects have collectively yielded 150 volumes of new scholarship and more than 250 public forums. Witte also edits two books series for Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: Emory University Studies in Law and Religion and the Religion, Marriage and Family Series.

In 2007 alone, Witte delivered more than two dozen lectures in North America and Europe, including at Windsor Castle, where he highlighted a repeating theme in his work: the relationship of the Protestant Reformation to the development of law in the West.

Witte has been selected 10 times by the students at Emory University School of Law as the "Most Outstanding Professor" and has won dozens of other major awards for his teaching and research for universities and learned societies in North America and Western Europe.

Among past First Freedom award recipients are former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright; former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Abdelfattah Amor; Richard C. Holbrooke, chief negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; and former Prime Minister of Great Britain Tony Blair.

The mission of the First Freedom Council is to increase understanding and respect for religious freedom in diverse communities worldwide through education about this core human value: the freedom of thought, conscience and belief. The Council was founded in 1984 to celebrate the bicentennial of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, adopted in 1786 by the Virginia General Assembly. The landmark law was the first that guaranteed religious liberty and became the precursor for the First Amendment pledge of freedom of religion. The First Freedom award ceremony is being hosted in conjunction with National Religious Freedom Day, the anniversary date of the statue’s enactment.

The Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR) at Emory University is home to world-class scholars and forums on the religious foundations of law, politics, and society. It offers first-rank expertise on how the teachings and practices of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have shaped and can continue to transform the fundamental ideas and institutions of our public and private lives. The scholarship of CSLR faculty provides the latest perspectives, while its conferences and public forums foster reasoned and robust public debate.

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