First Freedom Center Honors AJC's Felice Gaer for Religious Freedom Advocacy

Jan 13, 2010, 11:18 ET from American Jewish Committee

NEW YORK , Jan. 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Felice Gaer, director of AJC's Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, will receive the First Freedom Center's prestigious National First Freedom Award for her lifelong work as an advocate of religious freedom. The award will be presented to Gaer at a ceremony Thursday in Richmond, Virginia.

"We are thrilled that First Freedom Center is honoring Felice Gaer, recognizing her dedication to fulfilling AJC's mission to defend human rights and advance religious freedom around the world," said AJC Executive Director David Harris.

Gaer, an internationally recognized human rights expert, has served as JBI head since 1993.  In addition to her AJC role, Gaer has served since 2001 on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCRIF), the congressionally-mandated bipartisan body that advises the president and secretary of state on U.S.policy to advance freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief around the world. She served three terms as chair of the Commission.

Gaer is one of three distinguished religious freedom advocates to be honored in this 16th year of the First Freedom Center's First Freedom Awards, presented in conjunction with National Religious Freedom Day. The others are Abdurrahman Wahid, former president of Indonesia, who passed away on December 30, and Professor Melissa Rogers, director of the Wake Forest School of Divinity Center for Religion and Public Affairs.

"I am grateful for this honor and for the privilege of working to ensure that every person is protected from repression because of his or her religion," said Gaer. "As Jews, we have seen too much persecution because of religious identity. We want to ensure that everyone – Jewish and non-Jewish – can live in freedom with dignity around the world. It isn't easy but it is vitally important."

The First Freedom Center, a non-governmental organization based in Richmond, Virginia, seeks to increase understanding and respect for religious freedom in diverse communities worldwide through education about this core value: the freedom of thought, conscience and belief.

"In honoring these champions of religious freedom, we shine light on one of the most pressing issues facing humankind today," said Rodney A. Smolla, Chair of the First Freedom Center's Board of Trustees. "The ongoing quest to ensure that all societies of the world respect religious freedom as a fundamental human right is at the core of our shared aspirations for stability, peace and the protection of human dignity."

SOURCE American Jewish Committee