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Orrin Hatch to be honored for religious freedom legacy with Canterbury Medal

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty will honor Orrin Hatch in May

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In this Monday, Oct. 22, 2018, file photo, then-Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is photographed in his Senate hideaway office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Monday, Oct. 22, 2018. Hatch, now retired, will receive the Canterbury Medal from the Becket Fund.

Cheryl Diaz Meyer, for the Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Longtime Utah senator Orrin G. Hatch is being celebrated by a prominent religious liberty law firm for his work on behalf of people of faith.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, best known for battling the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate in front of the Supreme Court, announced Friday that Hatch has been selected as its Canterbury Medalist for 2020. He will be honored at a ceremony in New York City in May.

“Few lawmakers have done more for the cause of religious liberty than ... Sen. Orrin G. Hatch,” said Mark Rienzi, Becket’s president, in a statement.

In its press release, Becket highlighted Hatch’s work on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which aims to prevent federal officials from interfering with religious practices without proper cause. The law was passed by near unanimous vote in 1993 and remains an essential part of a wide variety of faith groups’ efforts to challenge government restrictions.

Hatch also authored the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which deals with disputes over zoning laws and prison policies. In Holt v. Hobbs, Becket used the act to challenge an Arkansas law barring most prisoners from growing beards. In January 2015, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Becket’s client, a Muslim inmate who wished to grow a beard for religious reasons.

Hatch’s work on these laws and others won’t soon be forgotten, Rienzi said.

“Hatch’s legacy of championing protections for people of all faiths — and working across partisan lines to do so — has greatly strengthened religious liberty in the United States,” he said.

Hatch, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, called the Canterbury an “incredible honor” and said he remains committed to the cause of religious freedom.

“Over more than four decades of Senate service, I worked to build coalitions of common interest to preserve religious liberty for people of all faiths. Protecting these rights is essential to the future of our republic,” he said.

Becket awards the Canterbury medal annually and calls it “religious liberty’s highest honor.” Past medalists include Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize recipient; Barry Black, who serves as Senate chaplain; Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, a prominent Orthodox Jewish leader; and President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.