The third annual Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit, hosted by Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Liberty Initiative, culminated on Thursday, July 13, with a black-tie gala at the Merchant Taylors’ Hall in London.
During the gala, the 2023 Notre Dame Prize for Religious Liberty was awarded to Lord David Alton of Liverpool, a member of the House of Lords of the United Kingdom. The 2023 Religious Liberty Initiative Scholarship Award was presented to John E. Coons, professor emeritus of law at the University of California, Berkeley.
In her remarks at the gala, Professor Stephanie Barclay, faculty director for the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative, touched on the continued threats to freedom of conscience and religion today and called on attendees to continue to work together.
“It’s more important than ever that we who care about these issues, believer and nonbeliever alike, find common ground — something I hope this summit has provided an opportunity for more people to do,” said Barclay.
“The United Kingdom and the United States have a long history of fighting side by side for freedom, a tradition that we at Notre Dame Law School wish to continue through our work protecting and defending religious freedom for all — worldwide,” she said.
In his remarks at the gala, Notre Dame Law School Dean G. Marcus Cole, the founder of the Religious Liberty Initiative, reiterated a point that he made in his welcome address on the summit’s first day.
“Yes, there is a compelling case for the protection of freedom of religion. And, yes, we have won important victories in the courts of the United States and elsewhere, and we are here to celebrate those victories. But as I said in my welcome remarks on Tuesday, those victories in the courts of law will be fleeting, unless we can win victories in the court of public opinion,” Cole said.
“We have won victories of the mind,” he said. “We must now win victories of the heart.”
He described numerous examples of how people of many faiths throughout the world have been inspired to serve others. These good works are expressions of love rooted in faith, he said.
“In short, religion is good. It is a force for good. It saves lives and makes them better. But it can only do this if we are free, not only to believe, but to live our beliefs,” Cole said. “In other words, if nothing else, religious freedom allows us the freedom to show others that we love them.”
2023 Notre Dame Prize for Religious Liberty
Lord David Alton, a member of the House of Lords of the United Kingdom, received the 2023 Notre Dame Prize for Religious Liberty.
The prize is given annually to one individual in recognition of their achievement and support in preserving religious liberty.
For four decades, Alton has been a leading international voice on issues including the environment, human rights, and religious liberty. He has used his long career in Parliament to shine a spotlight on international threats to religious freedom as well as human rights abuses and genocidal atrocities against vulnerable populations.
“To be awarded the 2023 Notre Dame Prize for Religious Liberty is a tremendous and singular honor. It means a great deal to me,” Alton said at the gala. “Through serving on the board of the Religious Liberty Initiative I have come to know and deeply admire Dean Marcus Cole and the team in Notre Dame’s outstanding and hugely respected School of Law.”
Alton began his career as a teacher in socially disadvantaged neighborhoods, working with immigrant children and children with special needs. In 1972, while still a student, he was elected to Liverpool City Council as Britain’s youngest city councilor. In 1979, when he was 28 years old, he became the youngest member of the House of Commons. In 1997, he was appointed a life peer as Baron Alton of Liverpool, of Mossley Hill in the County of Merseyside, and took his seat in the House of Lords as a crossbencher.
He is a co-founder of Jubilee Campaign, a human rights group that defends Jewish and Christian dissidents in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
His deep-seated commitment to human rights also extends beyond Europe, as Alton has authored many reports on human rights in countries such as North Korea, Burma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Brazil, Sudan, Tibet, and Rwanda.
He travels all over the world and sees the real crises of religious persecution and suffering, and fights against them fearlessly.
“I did not go into politics to make it a career. I saw it as a chance to make some type of difference,” said Alton. “Not to speak is to speak, not to act is to act.”
Alton’s work in advancing religious freedom for all people aligns with the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative mission to defend freedom of religion or belief for all people. He highlighted the important work being undertaken by the initiative.
“We each have an inalienable right, flowing from our nature as human beings, to believe in religious truths or, uncoerced, not to do so.” said Alton.
“The creation of the hugely important Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative has given that work renewed definition and impetus. It is a good deed in a sometimes nasty, dangerous, and intolerant world. … I hope the Notre Dame message that freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental liberty – and which must be upheld at every opportunity and in every forum — will be heard loud and clear.”
Alton is the third recipient of the Notre Dame Prize for Religious Liberty.
Nury Turkel, a Uyghur-American attorney and member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, received the inaugural award in 2021. Mary Ann Glendon, the Learned Hand Professor of Law, emerita, at Harvard Law School and former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, received the award in 2022.
2023 Religious Liberty Initiative Scholarship Award
John E. Coons, the Robert L. Bridges Professor of Law (Emeritus) at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, received the 2023 Notre Dame Religious Liberty Initiative Scholarship Award.
The award is given annually to a legal scholar for accomplishments in the field of law and religion, and for contributions to the understanding of the enterprise of protecting the freedom of religion and belief through law.
Coons’ newest book, The Case for Parental Choice: God, Family, and Educational Liberty, makes a humanitarian case for parental school choice, seeking to advance social justice and respect the dignity of parents — especially those on the margins.
Notre Dame Law Professors Richard W. Garnett and Nicole Stelle Garnett accepted the Scholarship Award on Coons’ behalf. The Garnetts co-edited a collection of essays for The Case for Parental Choice with Notre Dame English Professor Ernest Morrell.
“For over 60 years, Jack Coons has engaged in the fight as a scholar and advocate for parental choice in education, which he reminds us advances both human dignity and religious liberty,” Nicole Stelle Garnett said.
“It is a privilege to honor him at a time when his efforts are bearing fruit,” she said. “Thirty-three states now have at least one private school choice program that empower parents to choose their children's schools, and 12 have made parental choice a reality for all or most parents in the last two years."
In the 1970s, Coons litigated the landmark Serrano v. Priest cases, which challenged California’s school funding structure, arguing that the state created a financial disparity between wealthy and poor districts.
Coons believed that the randomness of zip-code-based school funding was a disgrace to any concept of equity. He said he believed that the lack of choice poor families had was an affront to their dignity and agency as much as it was a question of academic quality for their children.
He has published on public and private schooling, poverty law, religion, and equality theory. He has also authored or co-authored four other books on the subject of education finance, which include developing model statutes and proposals for enlarging the population of lower-income families who would benefit from having parental choice for their child’s education.
“The religious freedom that you so nobly serve just might find a robust co-star in human equality understood, that is, simply as a universal and defining fact of our moral nature and not as some advantage bestowed either by luck or government upon some members of some sub-group of its citizens,” Coons said in pre-recorded remarks that were shown at the gala.
“To make sense of ‘equality,’ I hold, specifically, that religious liberty must fully credit every minimally rational human person with the same freedom, capacity — and duty — not to find but simply to seek right answers to moral issues as best one can, actually valuing the inevitable honest mistakes by all of us — from the most feeble to the most intellectually empowered of seekers. My profound thanks to Notre Dame.”
Visit religiousliberty.nd.edu to learn more about the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative.
Originally published by law.nd.edu on July 18, 2023.at