On Friday, June 27, during the Unitarian Universalist Association's General Assembly, the Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association gave their annual Religious Humanist of the Year award to Ellery Schempp. Few Supreme Court decisions are as important or decisive as Abington School District v. Schempp, and few Humanist speakers embody so much history, humor and gravitas as Ellery.
As an aside, I personally consider Ellery a dear friend. During the height of the nonsense surrounding my niece, Jessica Ahlquist's lawsuit against the City of Cranston over a prayer banner affixed to the auditorium wall of her public high school, Ellery came down and spoke to the local press, reminding Cranston that prayer in public school's had been well settled law nearly 50 years previous. The City of Cranston disregarded Ellery's advice then, and it cost them thousands of dollars.
It is also appropriate that Ellery should receive this award in Rhode Island, the birthplace of religious freedom.
Ellery spoke his case, graciously sidestepping any praise and instead accepted the award on behalf of his lawyer in the case, Henry W. Sawyer III, and his parents, who allowed the teenager with no legal standing to pursue his case.
In addition to his legal battle Ellery should also be remembered for being a fine physicist, who helped develop technology included in MRI machines, and for being both a polar explorer and a mountain climber. Ellery, a lifelong Unitarian Universalist and unapologetic atheist, embodies all the strengths and, I suppose, contradictions in the title of "Religious Humanist" and is a fine choice to receive this award.
Maria Greene, of the Concord Humanists emceed the event. Ellery was lauded and praised by David Niose of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, Ron Madnick of the Massachusetts branch of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and John Gibbons, Minister of the First Parish in Bedford where Ellery is currently a congregant.
You can watch the full presentation here:
|A jazz combo played for the after party|