Remarks by Senator Edward M. Kennedy

This is a special day for our family in two ways. First of all, it's President Kennedy's birthday. It's hard to imagine, but Jack would have been 80 years old today, and this special anniversary reminds us again how much we miss him and how much he meant to us, and to our state and our country.

Today is also the day that the annual Profile in Courage Award is presented. Our family established this award several years ago in honor of my brother and the famous book he wrote while still a Senator. This is the eighth year the Award has been given.

This year's winner is Judge Charles Price of Alabama, and he's being honored for his courage in defending the First Amendment and freedom of religion.

As President Kennedy wrote in "Profiles in Courage," he admired leaders in American history who displayed the quality of political courage. What he meant were elected officials who act on principle, who do what they feel is right, even though it means often risking the anger of their constituents -- and therefore often risking their positions and careers.

That sort of quality is all too rare in American public life today. Too often, we seem to rely on government that kowtows to powerful special interest groups, to the prevailing political winds, and to public opinion polls, instead of genuine leadership based on enduring principles and values.

It's outrageous, for example, that the National Rifle Association is still able, year after year, to prevent responsible action on gun control.

The same is true of the tobacco lobby. It's a scandal that they can block action in Congress to provide health insurance for children and prevent teenagers from smoking.

We hope that this annual "Profile in Courage Award" in President Kennedy's name will help to change all that, by encouraging more elected officials to be more courageous in their actions, and by encouraging the American people to value the quality of political courage more highly in their elected officials.

This year's winner of the award is an excellent choice, and I'm sure my brother would approve.

Charles Price has been a trial judge in the State of Alabama for more than a decade. That's an elected position, and Judge Price was re-elected to a six-year term last November.

In a landmark case that received national attention earlier this year, Judge Price ruled that it was a violation of the Constitution and the fundamental principle of separation of church and state for a judge to display a copy of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.

It was a courageous decision and it was controversial. The Governor of Alabama threatened to call out the National Guard to prevent Judge Price's order from being carried out. Thousands of people, egged on by state authorities and right-wing interest groups, staged a rally on the grounds of the state capitol to oppose it.

Judge Price's decision is now being appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court, and it may go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

President Kennedy would have been especially proud of Judge Price and his courageous decision. His election to the White House in 1960 was a milestone in the ongoing battle against religious intolerance. And as John has just mentioned, one of my brother's most famous actions as President was his defense of the Supreme Court's decision on school prayer.

Separation of church and state and freedom of religion are among the most important principles of any free society. The government should not be forcing its view of religion on children in public schools, or on jurors in courtrooms.

Those principles often come under attack, but they will endure and prevail, as long as we have courageous elected officials like Judge Price to speak out for them and stand up for them.

Remarks made by Senator Edward M. Kennedy on presenting the Profile in Courage Award to Judge Charles Price of Alabama, May 29, 1997