Cranston resident Jessica Ahlquist, the teenager who started the debate over the prayer mural at Cranston High School West, was awarded a 2013 Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award.
Ahlquist was given her award by Eugenie Scott, Ph.D., the executive director of National Center for Science Education. Dr. Scott is a 1999 Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award winner.
Christie Hefner established the Awards in 1979 in conjunction with Playboy magazine’s 25th anniversary to honor individuals who have made significant contributions in the effort to protect and enhance First Amendment rights for all Americans, in the fields of journalism, government, book publishing and education. A press reception with the winners, judges and special presenters was held on May 22 at the Playboy Mansion. Winners, including Ahlquist, received a cash award of $5,000 and a commemorative plaque.
This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award was bestowed to Norman Lear, who has enjoyed a long career in television and film and as a political and social activist and philanthropist. Concerned about the growing influence of radical religious evangelists, Lear formed People for the American Way, a non-profit organization designed to speak out for Bill of Rights guarantees and to monitor violations of constitutional freedoms.
Ahlquist was given the award in the education category for her successful lawsuit over the prayer that appeared on a wall at her high school.
The four journalists who created the Freedom of the Press Foundation were recognized in the journalism category. Co-founders John Perry Barlow, Daniel Ellsberg, Rainey Reitman and Trevor Timm shared the award. Their foundation supports those organizations and individuals that publish leaks in the public interest.
Colonel Morris Davis, former assistant director and senior specialist in National Security, Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, who despite great risks expressed his personal views on the Guantanamo Military Commissions, received an award in the government category.
Marjorie Heins is a civil liberties lawyer, author and teacher. She is being honored for her book Priests of Our Democracy: The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti-Communist Purge, a chronicle of the history, law and personal stories behind the struggle to recognize academic freedom as “a special concern of the First Amendment.”
This year’s Master of Ceremonies was Christie Hefner, who has been involved in First Amendment, women’s rights and progressive politics for decades. She served on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union for over 20 years and worked on numerous political campaigns. She was twice a delegate to the Democratic Convention and began working for Barack Obama during his Senate primary race and continued through the presidential campaign. In 1987 she was given the ACLU of Illinois Harry Kalven Freedom of Expression award. Since leaving Playboy, she has been working with the Center for American Progress, the leading progressive public policy think tank started and run by John Podesta.