Medal of Freedom awarded to religious leaders

WASHINGTON -- Retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a longtime U.S. civil rights activist, have been named recipients of the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom.

"Each has been an agent of change," President Obama said of the 16 people who will receive the nation's highest civilian honor. "Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way."

Tutu was a leading opponent of apartheid in South Africa, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Lowery, a United Methodist minister who gave the benediction at Obama's inauguration, co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

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Tutu and Lowery will be honored Aug. 12 along with 14 others, including Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., the late gay activist Harvey Milk, and actor Sidney Poitier.

"Coming from the first African-American president and to be included in his first class, with these outstanding personalities and leaders is very special," Lowery told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.


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