SHADMIA'S WORLD

Just Another Guy with Opinions

Dalai Lama receives Congressional Gold Medal

Posted by shadmia on October 18, 2007

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Congress finds that Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama is recognized in the United States and throughout the world as a leading figure of moral and religious authority…….

So began the bill of the 109th Congress, 2nd Session: Senate Resolution 2784. May 25, 2006 to award a Congressional Gold Medal to “Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, in recognition of his many enduring and outstanding contributions to peace, non-violence, human rights, and religious understanding…..”

It was one of those rare occasions that President Bush and the entire U.S. Congress were in complete agreement. The President personally handed the medal to the Dalai Lama in a public ceremony held at the White House. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian honor that Congress can bestow on an individual. See a short clip of the ceremony here.

Legislation to award a Congressional Gold Medal must be co-sponsored by two-thirds of the membership of both the House of Representatives and the Senate before the congressional committees can consider it. After the legislation is passed by both houses, the medal is forged specially by the U.S. Mint, which creates a unique design for each award.

The medal first was awarded in 1776 by the Second Continental Congress to then-General George Washington during the U.S. War of Independence. Among the award’s non-American recipients are Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Russian dissident and Israeli Cabinet member Natan Sharansky. The Dalai Lama, who won the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, is the 146th person to receive it.

Not everyone was happy to see the Dalai Lama honored. The Chinese government offered a sharp rebuke of the award ceremony: “The protagonist of this farce is the Dalai Lama,” said Ye Xiaowen, director general of the State Administration for Religious Affairs. Other Chinese officials have warned, without specifying, of a “serious impact” on relations between the United States and China. Apparently in a protest over the award, China pulled out of a multiparty meeting this month to discuss Iran.

Mr. Bush, during a news conference, appeared unconcerned.

“I don’t think it ever damages relations,” he said, “when an American president talks about, you know — religious tolerance and religious freedom is good for a nation.” He also said, “I have consistently told the Chinese that religious freedom is in their nation’s interest.”

Mr. Bush reminded reporters that he had told President Hu Jintao of China, when they met recently in Sydney, Australia, that he would meet the Dalai Lama. During the award ceremony, he urged the Chinese to do the same. Bush praised the Dalai Lama at the ceremony calling him a “universal symbol of peace and tolerance, a shepherd of the faithful and a keeper of the flame for his people.” adding also “Americans cannot look to the plight of the religiously oppressed and close our eyes or turn away”

The Dalai Lama, chuckling as he stumbled over his remarks in English, said the award will bring “tremendous joy and encouragement to the Tibetan people” and he thanked Bush for his “firm stand on religious freedom and democracy.” He also said, trying to diffuse Chinese opposition, who see him as a separatist, that he wants “real autonomy” for Tibet, but does not see autonomy for Tibet as a stepping-stone toward eventual independence.

 

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