First Liberty Presents 2021 Onderdonk Award at The American Legion National Convention

September 3, 2021
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by Lauren Moses • 5 min read

Each year at The American Legion’s National Convention, First Liberty Institute bestows the Philip B. Onderdonk Jr. Religious Liberty Award to one exceptional individual for his or her efforts to defend religious liberty.

The honoree receives a custom-made Henry Repeating Arms Military Service Tribute Edition .22 caliber commemorative rifle, specially engraved for the award. The rifle is donated by Henry Repeating Arms, a strong supporter of our nation’s military service members and veterans.

This year, First Liberty is proud to present the 2021 Onderdonk Religious Liberty Award to the Northeast POW/MIA Network.

The Onderdonk Award was first introduced in 2015, named after Philip B. Onderdonk Jr, long-time National Judge Advocate of The American Legion. Past honorees also include:

  • Christopher DiPompeo (2019), co-lead counsel for the Bladensburg Peace Cross case, a landmark Supreme Court victory for The American Legion and religious liberty.
  • President Donald J. Trump (2018) for passing an executive order advancing religious freedom throughout our federal agencies and government, including the military. U.S. Attorney General has produced guidelines for religious freedom, and the Department of Justice has created a religious liberty task force to ensure that these guidelines and the executive order are implemented.
  • Senator Ted Cruz (2017) for donating his time while in private practice to First Liberty and The American Legion. He played a leading role in helping save the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial and restoring Memorial Day prayer.
  • Dan Wheeler (2016), AL’s National Adjutant, Vietnman War veteran of the U.S. Navy, and journalist for his key role in establishing the AL and FL partnership, particularly in our legal efforts to stop attacks on memorials and displays honoring veterans.
  • Philipp B. Onderdonk (2015), National Judge Advocate of AL for working alongside FL on protecting the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial, Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial, and the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.

You’ll recall that First Liberty is currently defending the Northeast POW/MIA Network in a critical case involving a Remembrance Display at the at the Manchester (NH) Veterans Affairs Medical Center. In an affront to the religious liberty of our nation’s veterans, an outside group filed a lawsuit demanding that a Bible—donated by a WWII veteran—be removed from the POW/MIA Remembrance Table.

For over two years since the lawsuit began, the Northeast POW/MIA Network has stood strong and remained committed to protecting religious liberty for veterans.

It’s First Liberty honor to recognize this veterans’ organization for its ongoing effort and persistence, and they deserve to join the list of prestigious recipients who’ve also been steadfast defenders of America’s First Freedom.

Because of their incredible sacrifice to our country and their defense of our freedoms, First Liberty is proud to stand with America’s veterans.

Service men and women deserve to express their First Amendment rights without fear of repercussion. As former Vice President Mike Pence stated, VA hospitals must “make room for the spiritual needs of veterans” as well as their physical needs. In honoring the POW/MIA Network we hope to send a signal to anti-religious groups that those who offer the ultimate sacrifice deserve their first freedom.

First Liberty and The American Legion: Joining Forces to Defend Religious Freedom

Our commitment to defend religious liberty in our nation’s military isn’t just limited to our defense of the Northeast POW/MIA Network.

For over a decade, First Liberty and The American Legion have collaborated multiple times to help defend the constitutional liberties of our military service members. And our partnership has led to several landmark victories for religious freedom, including wins in these five important cases:

At First Liberty, we consider it an honor to continue granting the Onderdonk Award in conjunction with one of the most distinguished veterans organizations in the country. Thanks to the successful combination of First Liberty Institute and The American Legion, we’re helping secure and restore religious liberty for thousands of military service members and veterans.

Today, we congratulate the Northeast POW/MIA Network for being a key part of this critical mission: To fight for religious freedom for all Americans, especially for the men and women who selflessly serve and sacrifice their lives to defend our First Amendment rights.

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