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Updated 2:30 PM January 22, 2009
 

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Award recognizes Laycock's contributions to religious freedom

Michigan Law Professor Douglas Laycock, whose nuanced thinking has led all sides of the debate over religious liberty to seek his counsel, will be honored
Jan. 15 with a national First Freedom Award.

The annual honors, awarded in Richmond, Va., by the First Freedom Center, are bestowed on individuals who make important contributions in advancing freedom of conscience and basic human rights for people of all faiths, traditions and cultures. Past winners of the national award include Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Wills, Emmy-award winning television producer Norman Lear, Sen. George Mitchell and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

Laycock, the Yale Kamisar Collegiate Professor of Law, is a leading authority on the law of religious liberty, including conflicts between government regulation and religious practice, religious speech by both citizens and government, and government funding of social services delivered by religious entities. He has argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and has been consulted on such thorny questions as animal sacrifice, the Pledge of Allegiance and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In addition to being regularly sought out by members of the news media for his take on local religious conflicts, he often has testified before Congress about those issues and has argued many sensitive cases in court. His opinion is respected enough to be valued by a range of petitioners from conservative religious groups to secular civil liberties organizations.

The awards are timed for Jan. 16, National Religious Freedom Day, the anniversary of the 1786 enactment of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. The Statute was the immediate forebear of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment. Each year the First Freedom Center selects individuals in the Virginia, national and international arenas for the awards.

This year's Virginia winner is Samuel Ericsson, president and CEO of Advocates International in Fairfax. W. Cole Durham Jr., a law professor at Brigham Young University's J. Reuben Clark Law School, is the international honoree. Past international honorees have included Ethan Allen CEO M. Farooq Kathwari for his work as founder of the Kashmir Study Group, former Czech President Vaclav Havel and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

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