The de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture presented the 2023 Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae Medal—the nation’s most important award for heroes of the pro-life movement—to acclaimed legal philosopher and constitutional and political theorist Robert P. George at a celebration attended by more than 500 guests on April 29, 2023.
George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Professor of Politics at Princeton University and the founding director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions.
"In his lifetime of work, study, writing, and teaching, Professor George has insisted, valiantly and joyfully—over and again—on the essential dignity of the human person, the role of the law in defending it, and the possibility of our reasoning together in charity to promote it," said O. Carter Snead, director of the de Nicola Center. "Professor George’s patient, persistent demonstration of the right relationship between the civil and moral law has helped to lay the groundwork for a renewed appreciation of the rights of the unborn and an understanding of the proper role of law in defending those rights, following decades of profound injustice.”
"For forty-nine years, five months, and two days, our law taught a gross moral untruth," said George in his remarks at the dinner. "It taught generations of our people that the choice to destroy a child in utero is a basic liberty, indeed a fundamental right; it taught that that the child himself or herself is as nothing—a blob of tissue, a meaningless mass, a mere object, a piece of property rather than a person with dignity and a right to life. That is a false lesson that it is our job to help people to unlearn."
In his homily at the Evangelium Vitae Mass in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne–South Bend noted that George “has been an eloquent witness to the Gospel of life, teaching and defending the truth about the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, a truth that can be recognized in the natural law written in the human heart, known by the light of reason and the hidden action of grace.”
George is a renowned teacher, having taught nearly eight thousand students who have themselves gone on to distinguished careers as scholars, lawyers, judges, politicians, leaders of nonprofits, and journalists. “The public that knows about Robby George knows about his voluminous writings, they know about his advocacy, about his speaking on the lecture circuit. They don't know what an extraordinary teacher and mentor he is to thousands of students who have passed through Princeton,” said Notre Dame Law School Associate Professor Sherif Girgis, himself a former student of George’s. "That's something that I learned from him, the kind of complete generosity with time and resources to mentor people, whatever perspective they come from."
George has authored, co-authored, or edited more than 13 books, including Embryo: A Defense of Human Life (2nd edition, Doubleday, 2011), In Defense of Natural Law (Oxford University Press, 1999), and Making Men Moral (Oxford University Press, 1993). His articles and essays have appeared in popular and scholarly journals, from the Harvard Law Review and the Yale Law Journal to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, First Things, and the Times Literary Supplement. George has spoken throughout the United States and around the world on a wide range of issues in philosophy, law, and politics, including in honorific lectures at Harvard, Yale, University of St. Andrews, and Cornell University.
George has also had a long career of public service. He has served on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (2012–16), of which he was also chair (2013–16); the President's Council on Bioethics (2002–09); the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (1993–98); and as the U.S. member of UNESCO's World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (2008–12).
A graduate of Swarthmore College, Harvard Law School, and the University of Oxford, George has received honors and awards that include the Presidential Citizens Medal, the Honorific Medal for the Defense of Human Rights of the Republic of Poland, the Canterbury Medal of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Bradley Prize for Intellectual and Civic Achievement, the Irving Kristol Award of the American Enterprise Institute, and Princeton University’s President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching.
He holds honorary doctorates of law, ethics, science, letters, divinity, humanities, law and moral values, civil law, humane letters, and juridical science.
The Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae Medal, named after Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical, is the nation’s most important lifetime achievement award for heroes of the pro-life movement, honoring individuals whose efforts have advanced the Gospel of Life by steadfastly affirming and defending the sanctity of human life from its earliest stages.
Previous recipients of the medal include Dr. John Bruchalski, founder of Tepeyac OB/GYN and Divine Mercy Care; Vicki Thorn, founder of Project Rachel post-abortion healing ministry; the Women’s Care Center Foundation; Mother Agnes Mary Donovan and the Sisters of Life; Helen Alvaré, professor of law, Antonin Scalia School of Law at George Mason University; Congressman Chris Smith, co-chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, and his wife, Marie Smith, director of the Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues; Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and the Knights of Columbus; the Little Sisters of the Poor; the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation; Mary Ann Glendon, Harvard Law School professor emerita and former US Ambassador to the Holy See; and inaugural honoree Richard Doerflinger, associate director (retired) of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Announced annually on Respect Life Sunday, the first Sunday of October, the Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae award consists of a specially commissioned medal and $10,000 prize presented at a banquet following a celebratory Mass in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. For more information about the Evangelium Vitae Medal, visit ethicscenter.nd.edu/programs/culture-of-life/evangelium-vitae-medal.
The de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture is the leading center for scholarly reflection within the Catholic moral and intellectual tradition. The center is committed to sharing the richness of this tradition through teaching, research and dialogue, at the highest level and across a range of disciplines.