Press Release

Professor Michael W. McConnell to receive religious liberty’s highest honor Stalwart defender of religion in public life named 2023 Canterbury Medalist

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Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

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WASHINGTON Professor Michael W. McConnell, Director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School and a former federal judge, has been named Becket’s 2023 Canterbury Medalist for his decades-long commitment to the cause of religious liberty. The Canterbury Medal, religious liberty’s highest honor, recognizes an individual who has demonstrated courage and commitment to defending religious freedom in America and around the globe. As a professor, scholar, advocate, and public servant, Professor McConnell’s career has provided a strong and unfailing defense of religious liberty for all. Becket will honor Professor McConnell with the 2023 Canterbury Medal at its annual Gala in New York on Thursday, May 25. 

In his distinguished career, Professor McConnell has played a key role in advancing the principle of religious freedom for all people. As an advocate, Professor McConnell has argued many religious liberty cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts. Following his unanimous confirmation by the Senate, Professor McConnell served as federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit from 2002-2009. He also played a central role in founding the first religious liberty law clinic at Stanford Law School, where he continues to teach courses on constitutional law, the First Amendment, and constitutional history.   

“The bedrock of a free and just society is the ability of citizens to follow their faith without fear of punishment—that is why the Founders enshrined religious liberty as our first freedom,” said Professor Michael W. McConnell. “I am honored to receive the Canterbury Medal, and to stand with others in the defense of religious liberty.”  

Professor McConnell has previously held chaired professorships at the University of Chicago and the University of Utah and visiting professorships at Harvard and NYU. He has honorary degrees from both Notre Dame and Michigan State and was the 2000 winner of Christian Legal Society’s William Bentley Ball Award for Life and Religious Liberty Defense. His new book, “Agreeing to Disagree: How the Establishment Clause Protects Religious Diversity and Freedom of Conscience,” will be published this year. 

“Few individuals have done more to protect religious freedom in principle and in practice than Professor McConnell,” said Mark Rienzi, president and CEO of Becket. “His work as a scholar, judge, and advocate has strengthened religious liberty in America and will continue to do so into the future. We are thrilled to recognize his outstanding achievements with the Canterbury Medal, religious liberty’s highest honor.” 

The Canterbury Medal draws its name from one of history’s most dramatic religious liberty stand-offs, which occurred between Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas à Becket, the law firm’s namesake, and King Henry II of England. The annual Canterbury Gala honors the award recipient in a black-tie event at the Pierre Hotel in New York and is attended by the world’s most distinguished religious leaders and religious liberty advocates. 

Past medalists include the late Nobel Peace Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel; Cuban poet and former political prisoner Armando Valladares; Orthodox rabbi of the oldest Jewish congregation in the U.S., Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik; First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Dallin H. Oaks; and 62nd Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, Chaplain Barry C. Black.

At every Canterbury Medal Gala, Becket also bestows an individual with the Legal Service Award, thanking them for their efforts to advance the cause of religious liberty for all. This year’s award will be given to Dean G. Marcus Cole, dean of Notre Dame Law School, for his trailblazing work launching Notre Dame’s Religious Liberty Initiative.