Notre Dame Law School's Religious Liberty Initiative has selected Lord David Alton, a member of the House of Lords of the United Kingdom, to receive the 2023 Notre Dame Prize for Religious Liberty.
The award presentation will take place at the third annual Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit, to be held July 11-13 in London with the theme “Protecting Religious Liberty in a Rapidly Evolving Society.”
For more than four decades, Alton has been a leading international voice on issues including the environment, human rights, and religious liberty. He has used his long career in Parliament to shine a spotlight on international threats to religious freedom as well as human rights abuses and genocidal atrocities against vulnerable populations.
Notre Dame Law School Dean G. Marcus Cole, the founder of the Religious Liberty Initiative, commended Alton for his long-standing dedication to defending religious freedom.
“Lord Alton has had a long, distinguished career of fighting for religious freedom and against religious oppression all around the world — fearlessly,” Cole said. “He has dedicated his life to fighting oppression and made this noble cause the cornerstone for his work as a politician and public intellectual.”
Notre Dame Law Professor Stephanie Barclay, director of the Religious Liberty Initiative, said, “We are proud to recognize and celebrate the important contributions that Lord Alton has made to advancing religious freedom throughout his outstanding career. His vision of a just and tolerant society is based on upholding human dignity and respect for others — ideals that are central to human flourishing.”
Alton began his career as a teacher in socially disadvantaged neighborhoods, working with immigrant children and children with special needs. In 1972, while still a student, he was elected to Liverpool City Council as Britain’s youngest city councillor. In 1979, when he was 28 years old, he became the youngest member of the House of Commons. In 1997, he was appointed a life peer as Baron Alton of Liverpool, of Mossley Hill in the County of Merseyside, and took his seat in the House of Lords as a crossbencher.
He is a co-founder of Jubilee Campaign, a human rights group that defends Jewish and Christian dissidents in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
His deep-seated commitment to human rights also extends beyond Europe, as Alton has authored many reports on human rights in countries such as North Korea, Burma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Brazil, Sudan, Tibet, and Rwanda.
“During firsthand visits in Eastern Europe, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East; in Sudan and other countries in Africa; in Burma, Nepal, India, North Korea, Pakistan, China, and other places in Asia, I have seen that same suffering and courage — not least among the 360 million Christians estimated, in 2022, to be experiencing ‘high levels of persecution and discrimination’ and I have documented terrible persecution of Muslim Uyghurs and Rohingya, Baháʼís in Iran, Yazidis in northern Iraq, and countless other minorities,” he said.
Alton shared that he feels deeply honored to receive the Notre Dame Prize for Religious Liberty and be recognized by the Law School’s Religious Liberty Initiative.
“To be awarded the 2023 Notre Dame Prize for Religious Liberty is a tremendous and singular honor. It means a great deal to me,” said Alton.
“Seventy-five years ago, after the Holocaust of the Jewish people, the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights insisted — in Article 18 — that every human being has the right to believe, not to believe, or to change their belief,” he said. “But Article 18 has been breached in every corner of the globe. I have spoken about this endlessly in Parliament, written about how persecution can ultimately morph into genocide, and have been blessed to work with some of the organizations committed to upholding Article 18.”
Alton’s work in advancing religious freedom for all people aligns with what the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative stands for and strives to achieve. He highlighted the important work being undertaken by the Religious Liberty Initiative, which formed in 2020 and is already one of the largest academic institutions in the world dedicated to promoting, protecting, and defending religious freedom.
“The creation of the hugely important Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative has given that work renewed focus, definition, and impetus — and I have been privileged to serve with Dean G. Marcus Cole on his board of advisors,” Alton said. “It is a good deed in a sometimes nasty, dangerous, and intolerant world which too easily forgets the importance of learning to live respectfully alongside one another and of honoring the dignity of difference.”
As this year’s Religious Liberty Summit comes to London, Alton said, “I hope the Notre Dame message — that freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental liberty and must be upheld at every opportunity and in every possible forum — will be heard loud and clear.”
Alton is the third recipient of the Notre Dame Prize for Religious Liberty.
Nury Turkel, a Uyghur-American attorney and member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, received the inaugural award in 2021. Mary Ann Glendon, the Learned Hand Professor of Law, emerita, at Harvard Law School and former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, received the award in 2022.
More information about the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit can be found at religiousliberty.nd.edu/summit2023.
About the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative
Established in 2020, the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative promotes and defends religious freedom for all people through advocacy, formation, and thought leadership. The initiative protects the freedom of individuals to hold religious beliefs as well as their right to exercise and express those beliefs and to live according to them.
The Religious Liberty Initiative has represented individuals and organizations from an array of faith traditions to defend the right to religious worship, to preserve sacred lands from destruction, to promote the freedom to select religious ministers, and to prevent discrimination against religious schools and families.
Learn more about the Religious Liberty Initiative at religiousliberty.nd.edu.