January 22, 2008
Witte’s commitment to rights honored
By kim urquhart
John Witte Jr. joined the ranks of former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Prime Minister of Great Britain Tony Blair when he received the 2008 National First Freedom Award. Presented by the Council for America’s First Freedom, the award recognized Witte’s contributions to advancing religious liberty in the United States.
The Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law and director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion was selected for his “extraordinary commitment to the preservation and protection of the principles of religious freedom,” said Robert Seiple, council president. Upon accepting the award on National Religious Freedom Day, Jan. 16, in Richmond, Va., Witte delivered brief remarks on 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.
After describing landmark Supreme Court cases and the many shades of interpretation of the First Amendment, Witte concluded: “It is a challenge for peoples of all faiths, and of no faith, to take their place at the table and to engage in deep, direct, candid and cogent conversation not only about legal and political technicalities, but also about ‘the weightier matters of the law.’”
A specialist in legal history, marriage and religious liberty, Witte holds a law degree from Harvard University and has published extensively in several languages. He has been selected 10 times by the students at Emory Law as the “Most Outstanding Professor” and has won dozens of other major awards for his teaching and research.
The Council for America’s First Freedom is dedicated to increasing understanding and respect for religious freedom in diverse communities worldwide.