W. Cole Durham, Jr., the Susa Young Gates University Professor of Law and Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University's J. Reuben Clark Law School, was the recipient of the 2009 International First Freedom Award during January's National Religious Freedom Day commemorations in Richmond, Virginia.
Past recipients include such awardees as: Madeleine K. Albright, former U.S. secretary of state; former Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain; V?lav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic; the Honorable George J. Mitchell, former U.S. senator and chairman of the Northern Ireland peace negotiations; and the Honorable Richard C. Holbrooke, chief negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
The Richmond-based First Freedom Center annually recognizes three advocates of religious freedom with an international, national and Virginia First Freedom Award for advancing freedom of conscience, belief and basic human rights for people of all faiths, traditions and cultures.
A respected scholar of religious liberty and comparative law, Brother Durham has advised governments on laws dealing with religious freedom and religious associations in Albania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Peru, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine.
He consulted the Iraqi government on the development of its current constitution and was present during its signing, and he spoke at the Jan. 15 First Freedom Awards Dinner on the life-threatening danger of entering Baghdad for the signing of the Iraqi constitution.
"Part of what we celebrate tonight in Richmond is what we have inherited from those who worked and fought for this principle in the past. I learned something fundamental about this heritage the summer I went to Iraq to work on the Iraqi constitution," he said in his acceptance speech.
Saying "I had never before been asked to put my life on the line for the principles in which I believed," Brother Durham said his experience resulted in many new realizations.
"Perhaps most importantly, I became convinced at a deeper level than ever before that religious freedom is a principle that is indeed worth risking one's life for. I learned a new level of respect for so many who have given so much for the principle we honor tonight."
A graduate of Harvard College and the Law School at Harvard University, he has also authored, contributed to and edited numerous books and law-review articles dealing with religious liberty.
"We were delighted to honor Cole with this international recognition," commented Isabelle Kinnard, vice president for education at the First Freedom Center. "Cole truly stands out amongst a group of esteemed internationalists as an exemplar for the international protection and growth of religious freedom."
Attending the event were more than 300 national and local government, civic, faith and corporate leaders, and scholars of religious freedom and constitutional law. Attendees included Elder Lance B. Wickman of the Seventy; Elder Ralph W. Hardy, an Area Seventy in the North America Northeast Area; and other Church members.
"Cole was selected for this award by his peers, and it was an honor to join them and the community to recognize him," commented J. Christopher Lansing, former president of the Richmond Virginia Stake. "Receiving this award makes a great statement about Cole and an important statement about the Church's contribution to religious freedom worldwide."
Added Glade M. Knight, former president of the Richmond Virginia Chesterfield Stake: "Although a man of many accomplishments, Cole remains humble. It is, perhaps, that gracious humility that has opened so many doors and hearts in countries worldwide."