Award Announcement

Charles Price, Circuit Court Judge of Montgomery County, Alabama
Honored as 1997 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award Recipient

Boston, MA, May 29, 1997 - An elected judge, who placed his political future in jeopardy by going against popular sentiment in a case involving separation of church and state, was honored today by members of President Kennedy's family as the winner of the 1997 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.

Charles Price, Circuit Court Judge of Montgomery County, Alabama, was singled out by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation for "his devotion to the principles of the American Constitution and judicial integrity" which compelled him to rule that a fellow Circuit Court Judge's courtroom display of the Ten Commandments for religious purposes was a violation of the First Amendment. Price ruled in February that fellow Circuit Court Judge Roy Moore must remove or modify his courtroom display of the Ten Commandments, so as not to violate the First Amendment.

So unpopular was Judge Price's order, that Alabama Governor Fob James threatened to call out the National Guard and state troopers to keep his order from being carried out. The U.S. House of Representatives subsequently endorsed Judge Moore's actions, and by a vote of 295-125, adopted a non-binding resolution stating that the ten commandments, as "the cornerstone of a fair and just society," should be allowed in government offices and courthouses.

Though a Sunday School teacher and a steward of his own church, Judge Price was accused of waging an assault on Christianity and on religion by Christian conservatives at an April 12 rally in Montgomery attended by more than 15,000 people, including Alabama's governor and attorney general, Judge Moore, Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed and former GOP presidential candidate Alan Keyes.

Judge Price's order has been stayed pending appeal to the Alabama State Supreme Court.

The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, described by a former recipient as the "Nobel in Government," is presented annually to a public official who has withstood strong opposition from constituents and powerful interest groups to follow what they believe is the right course of action.

The award, which is accompanied by a $25,000 stipend, was presented to Price by President Kennedy's children Caroline and John and by his brother Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) at a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston today, the 80th anniversary of President Kennedy's birth. Judge Price has stated that his prize money will be donated to charities.

"Judge Charles Price demonstrated both integrity and courage in his ruling to support our nation's historical separation of church and state,"said Caroline Kennedy, President of the Kennedy Library Foundation. "Though he has been vilified by many of his constituents as being anti-religion, Judge Price has in fact made a heroic stance to defend our country's proud history of religious tolerance and diversity.

"I believe it is important that we celebrate and acknowledge political integrity and courage, if only to offset the cynicism surrounding those holding public office," Kennedy continued. "It is too easy to criticize public officials, to dismiss their profession, to diminish their contributions, to question their motives. Democracy faces enough challenges without saddling it with doubt and cynicism. Rather than teach young Americans to ridicule the men and women who actively participate in politics, we should offer them examples of excellence and courage. Judge Charles Price is such an example."

"Today would have been Jack's 80th birthday, and one of the best ways to celebrate his life and legacy is through the Profile in Courage Award. I know that Jack would have been especially proud of this year's honoree and his principled defense of the First Amendment," said Senator Edward Kennedy, a member of the Profile in Courage Award Committee. "The courage and integrity demonstrated by Judge Price should be celebrated by every citizen. Actions such as these by public officials are essential to the preservation of the basic constitutional rights of all Americans."

The Profile in Courage Award was created by the Kennedy Library Foundation in 1989 to honor President Kennedy's memory. Individuals at all levels of government - federal, state and local - are eligible for the award. Emphasis is placed on contemporary political acts of courage, rather than examples from the distant past. In addition, priority is given to specific acts of political courage, rather than honoring officials for generally courageous careers.

Price was presented with a silver lantern representing a beacon of hope designed by Edwin Schlossberg and crafted by Tiffany & Co., and with the following citation:

CHARLES PRICE, Circuit Court Judge of Montgomery, Alabama, whose devotion to the principles of the American Constitution and judicial integrity compelled him to rule that a fellow Circuit Court Judge's courtroom display of the Ten Commandments for religious purposes was a violation of the First Amendment. Risking both his present elected office and his future judicial or public service career by this courageous but widely and bitterly criticized decision, Judge Price placed the maintenance of this country's historic separation of church and state ahead of any inclination on his part to enjoy the approval of his colleagues and constituents. His conscientious adherence to those vital constitutional principles, and to his obligation as a judge sworn to uphold that Constitution regardless of popular pressures, stamp him as a true Profile in Courage.

In 1995, Etowah Circuit Judge Roy Moore was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama on behalf of two Etowah County residents for opening court sessions with exclusively Christian prayer and for displaying the Ten Commandments behind his bench.

The original ACLU lawsuit was dismissed. But Governor Fob James and the State of Alabama filed suit against Judge Moore, the ACLU and the American Freethought Association in an effort to get a state judge to rule whether or not Judge Moore's actions were unconstitutional.

In September, 1996 all parties agreed to forego a trial and let Montgomery County Circuit Judge Charles Price decide the issue.

Judge Price ruled in November 1996 that although prayer in the courtroom is unconstitutional, Judge Moore's display of the Ten Commandments could remain. After visiting the courtroom in February 1997, however, Judge Price reversed his earlier ruling and found that the two-hand carved plaques containing the Ten Commandments violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of Alabama.

Price ordered Judge Moore to either remove the Ten Commandments or place them in a more historical context by displaying them with other symbols of law such as the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence. Judge Moore responded to the ruling by saying, "I will not surround the Ten Commandments with other items to secularize them. That's putting man above God."

Price, who was reelected to his third consecutive six-year term in 1996, clearly placed his promising political future in jeopardy by his unpopular decision. Only a few months earlier, a prominent newspaper editorialized that Governor Fob James should appoint Judge Price to fill a vacancy as state Attorney General. Now the governor was threatening to call out the National Guard to prevent Judge Price's order from being carried out.

"John F. Kennedy felt his greatest admiration for those in politics who had the courage to defy the extraordinary pressures of special interests and to make decisions of conscience without fear of consequences.," said Charles U. Daly, Executive Director of the Kennedy Library Foundation. "The Profile in Courage Award seeks to inspire other elected officials by recognizing and honoring those public servants who have demonstrated this kind of integrity."

In 1983, Judge Price became the state's first African-American circuit judge when he was appointed to fill a vacancy. He won election to his first six-year term in 1984, and was re-elected in 1990 and 1996. Price, 56, is married to Bernice B. Price, an Assistant Professor of Humanities at Alabama State University. They have two children.

Judge Price is the second citizen of Alabama to be awarded the prestigious Profile in Courage Award. The other was Carl Elliott of Jasper, who served in the U.S. House from 1949-65, when his moderate racial views led to his defeat. Price is the eighth individual and the first African-American to receive the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.

The Profile in Courage Award is named for President Kennedy's 1957 Pulitzer prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, which recounts the stories of eight U.S. Senators who risked their careers and often their reputations to fight for what they believed in. The award is presented annually, on or near May 29, in celebration of the anniversary of President Kennedy's birthday.

The Kennedy Library Foundation began its annual, nationwide search for political courage in the Fall of 1996. To help the Foundation's nominating committee find the best candidate, more than 100
distinguished journalists and opinion makers who cover politics were solicited for the names of individuals who took principled and sometimes unpopular stands on difficult issues. Ads calling for nominations were placed in George and Governing Magazine and more than 1,000 nomination forms were distributed throughout the country. The nominations were reviewed by the Foundation's Profile in Courage Award staff and the 14-member nominating committee.

The Chairman of the 1997 Profile in Courage Award Committee is John Seigenthaler, Chairman of the Freedom Forum at the First Amendment Center, Vanderbilt University. Other members of the committee are: David Burke, former executive vice president of ABC News and president of CBS News; William F. Connell, chairman, Connell Limited Partnership; Diddy Cullinane, civic and cultural community leader; Antonia Hernandez, president and general counsel, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Elaine Jones, director and counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Edward M. Kennedy, U.S. Senator from Massachusetts; Caroline Kennedy, author, attorney, and president of the Kennedy Library Foundation; John F. Kennedy, Jr., editor, attorney and vice chairman of the Kennedy Library Foundation; Angela Menino, program assistant, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company; Sherry H. Penney, Chancellor, University of Massachusetts at Boston; Mary Reed, vice president of human services, Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries, Inc.; Theodore Sorensen, author, attorney and former special counsel to President Kennedy; and William vanden Heuvel, attorney, investment banker, and former special assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

Past winners of the award are: former U.S. Congressman Carl Elliott, Sr. of Alabama; former U.S. Congressman Charles Weltner of Georgia; former Governor of Connecticut Lowell Weicker; former Governor of New Jersey James Florio; U.S. Congressman Henry Gonzalez of Texas; former U.S. Congressman Michael Synar of Oklahoma; and Calhoun County, Georgia School Superintendent Corkin Cherubini.

The John F. Kennedy Library and Museum is a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part, by the Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service.
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Further Information:
Tom McNaught (617) 514-1662