Each year Becket honors a person who embodies and lives out an unfailing commitment to religious freedom, someone who has resolutely and publicly refused to render unto Caesar that which is God’s.
From Nobel Peace Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, to businessman and philanthropist Foster Friess, to Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput, to Hobby Lobby co-founder Barbara Green, the Canterbury Medal is awarded to prominent figures in the public square who have fought for and defended the basic human right of religious liberty.
The Canterbury Medal draws its name from one of history’s most dramatic religious liberty standoffs:
Not long after becoming the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket found himself locked in a series of conflicts with King Henry II. Becket repeatedly blocked the king’s encroachments on his church’s liberties, which prompted the king to famously utter in frustration, “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?”
Taking that as an order to kill Becket if he did not comply, two of King Henry’s knights rode to the Canterbury Cathedral and demanded that Becket give in to the king’s demands. When Becket refused, the knights killed him at his own church altar in 1170. It wasn’t long before Thomas Becket was declared a martyr and a saint.
In remembrance of Becket’s heroic death in defense of religious freedom, Becket commissioned a medal from artist Karen Laub-Novak. Cast in bronze, it depicts a chessboard with a bishop facing off against the king while threatened by surrounding knights. The chess scene is symbolic of Becket’s martyrdom at the altar of the Canterbury Cathedral and his struggle to preserve the religious liberty of his church. The medal is emblazoned with the words “For the Courage and Defense of Religious Liberty,” to recognize the fellow religious freedom fighters who believe that all faiths and all religions should be respected, protected, and given their own spaces in the public square.
Every spring, Becket hosts a black-tie gala in New York where preeminent supporters and religious freedom advocates gather to present the medal to a courageous honoree who carries on the noble legacy of Thomas Becket in modern life, “troublesome priests” in their own right.