WASHINGTON – President Bush on Monday presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, to recognize contributions in science, the arts, literature and the cause of peace and freedom.
"Each of them, by effort and by character, has earned the respect of the American people, and holds a unique place in the story of our time," Bush said at an East Room ceremony.
The honorees were:
— Gary Becker. The economist and 1992 Nobel Prize winner was honored for broadening the understanding of economics and social science, and for helping to improve the standard of living around the world.
— Oscar Elias Biscet. A human rights advocate and champion of freedoms in Cuba, Biscet is a political prisoner in Cuba who is being recognized for his fight against tyranny and oppression.
— Francis Collins. The director of the National Human Genome Research Institute was honored for his leadership of the Human Genome Project and for greatly expanding the understanding of the human DNA.
— Benjamin Hooks. The NAACP's former executive director is considered a pioneer of the civil rights movement.
— Henry Hyde. The Illinois Republican served for 32 years in the House, where he was known for his battles against abortion rights and his leading role in the impeachment of President Clinton. He was honored as a "powerful defender of life" and an advocate for strong national defense, the White House says.
— Brian Lamb. The president and CEO of C-SPAN was recognized for elevating the public debate and making the government more accessible.
— Harper Lee. The author of the beloved novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" was honored for her contribution to American literature.
— Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The president of Liberia and the first woman elected president of an African nation, she is credited with working to expand freedom and healing a country torn apart by conflict.
The Medal of Freedom was established by President Truman in 1945 to recognize civilians for their efforts during World War II. The award was reinstated by President Kennedy in 1963 to honor distinguished service. It is given to those deemed to have made remarkable contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, culture, or other private or public endeavors.