On May 15 in New York City, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty awarded its Canterbury Medal to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who will be familiar to First Things readers thanks to his marvelous Erasmus Lecture, given last autumn and published in the January 2014 issues under the title “On Creative Minorities.” The Becket Fund, a public-interest law firm exclusively devoted to the defense of religious freedom, gives the Canterbury Medal each year to a distinguished public figure who has made weighty contributions to the same cause. The dinner where the award is given is a gala event, a gathering of happy warriors from every religious tradition united by their dedication to freedom. (For a vivid picture of the evening, see this column by Bill McGurn in the New York Post.)
I had attended the Erasmus Lecture—the second occasion on which I had seen Rabbi Sacks speak—and I was struck then by his deep erudition and penetrating insights. But his speech on receiving the Canterbury Medal was something else again, for which I was not quite prepared. More populist and less scholarly on this occasion, but with no sacrifice of gravitas, Rabbi Sacks delivered a stemwinder of a speech on the centrality of religious freedom, and on the great beacon that is the American model for achieving this freedom. The speech is now online, and it is a must-see performance. Rabbi Sacks wowed the crowd—hundreds of knowledgeable advocates of religious freedom—and I’m betting he’ll wow you too.