Acceptance Speech

To the family of President John P. Kennedy, Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, Members of the 1997 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award Committee, my family, and friends, it is indeed an honor for me to be here today as the 1997 recipient of this most prestigious award. When Ms. Caroline Kennedy telephoned me to inform me of this honor, my entire thinking process raced ahead of any appropriate word I could formulate to express my appreciation. Even today, a month later, I cannot find adequate words to express the depth of my feelings. I can however say, this is a once in a life time experience. To all of you, I humbly accept this award and all it symbolizes.

To all of you who have come to share this occasion with me, I owe you a debt of gratitude. You have been a main source of support and encouragement. My family has witnessed and suffered through threats made directly to me and indirectly through law enforcement; through a mountain of criticism and inflammatory demagoguery expressed by persons who command media attention. Through it all, my wife and two children have been courageous, supportive, and understanding. Thank you.

Donald Phillip quotes President Lincoln in LINCOLN ON LEADERSHIP as saying, "One should have the courage to handle unjust criticism." I hope I have handled such criticism with fortitude. I would be remiss if I did not note that some media people have tried and many times succeeded in presenting balanced analysis of and reports on the case, thereby educating the citizenry.

Dr. George Washington Carver reminds us in his poem, "Equipment," that "Courage comes from the soul within." Courage, then, is the sum total of a man's values and principles. It represents his philosophy. I have always believed that elected officials must adhere to a high standard of truthfulness and forthrightness, even when their re-election is threatened. I have tried to embrace one of President Lincoln's philosophies, "Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it."

When one becomes an elected official, he is entrusted with the public's trust and confidence. Therefore, to execute his duties any less than the public's belief in his integrity, makes a mockery of our system. As an elected judge, I long ago made a pledge to respect the law, interpret the law, obey the law, and apply the law based on stare decisis, Appellate Courts decisions and/or legislative statues and acts. Never have I committed myself as a judge to make a decision based on popularity or political expediency.

When the case for which I am given this award was assigned to me, I knew there would be strong reactions, no matter what my decision was. I sensed the most vocal reaction and public outcry would come from those who would view my ruling as an infringement of or threat to their religious freedom.

On the morning of the first hearing, a large crowd of demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse; they were proponents of opening court with a Christian prayer, sanctioned and promoted by the judge to the exclusion of all other religious prayers, chants, or other forms of religious expressions. Likewise, the demonstrators were in favor of the judge keeping in place two hand carved plaques of the Ten Commandments on the courtroom wall behind his bench, though other educational or judicial documents denoting the development of the law in America were excluded.

My ruling, that the prayer must cease, and the Ten Commandments must be removed, unless placed in a context or display with other educational and judicial documents showing the development of the judicial system in America, was then the state of law and continues to be. I believe many Americans are troubled by and resent the intrusion of government into religion in general, and their religious practices in particular; I believe they are equally troubled by the action of those who have little or no respect for the long held concept of separation of Church and State. Seemingly, too many public officials are willing to merge the two for their own political advancement. I am not one of them.

I respect people of faith, for I am one of them. As a judge, however, and as a principled human being, I will do what is legal and right. In making judicial decisions, I hope never to succumb to the political winds or to political popularity for the moment.

I have no intentions of evading tough and hard decisions, for to do so would make me unworthy of the honor you have bestowed on me with this award. I hope I shall continue to be a credit to you, the judiciary, my family, and most importantly, myself. I hope I shall remain forever in the same class as those men President Kennedy admired and included in his book, PROFILES IN COURAGE.

Ernest Hemingway defined courage as "grace under pressure." I hope my actions have demonstrated the kind of grace to which Hemingway alluded. My generation received the torch passed by President Kennedy. The flame was emblazoned not just as a symbol of the faith in and hope for America. The flame touched our hearts and I hope stilll burns brightly, reminding us of our commitments, our duties, our obligations. As I receive the lantern today, I see it as an extension of that torch I received from President Kennedy. I see it as an eternal symbol of hope and faith and commitment. To receive the lantern in any spirit short of this would be a disservice to President John F. Kennedy for whom this award honors.

Thank you.