2011 Awards Recipients

The International Religious Liberty Association is pleased to announce the International and National awardees for the 9th Annual Religious Liberty Dinner, to be held in Washington, D.C., April 5, 2011, at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. The 2011 awardees are:

International Award: Gunnar Stålsett

Gunnar Stålsett has a distinguished career both as statesman and a churchman. He has fearlessly sought peace and reconciliation amongst people of all faith traditions, with a strong emphasis on human rights including freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

He is the former bishop of Oslo, in the Church of Norway, from 1998 to 2005. He graduated from MF Norwegian School of Theology in Oslo. During his church career he has worked as a teacher of systematic theology and served as parish minister. He was General Secretary of the Norwegian Bible Society from 1982 to 1984 and Rector at the Practical Theological Seminary at the University of Oslo from 1994 to 1998. He has served as a General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation from 1985 to 1994. He served as a member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee for 14 years, the last years as vice-chairman. He has been chairman of the Japanese Niwano Peace Prize Committee.

Before devoting his life to full time church work Stålsett had a brief political career. He served as State Secretary in the Ministry of Church Affairs and Education and as a deputy representative to the Norwegian Parliament from Oslo. He chaired the Centre Party from 1977 to 1979.

Throughout his life he has been a devoted champion for ecumenical and inter-faith work and served on the executive bodies of the World Council of Churches and the World Conference of Religions for Peace. He participates in several organizations engaged in issues relating to Islam and the West. He is a member of the Board of the Library of Alexandria. He is co-founder and Moderator of the European Council of Religious Leaders. In this capacity he is presently active in peace and reconciliation efforts in Sri Lanka, Burma, Kyrgyzstan and Kosovo. He is also a member of the Board of Experts of the International Religious Liberty Association.

He is the author of several books and holds a number of honorary degrees in Theology and in Laws. For his peace work he has received from the King of Norway the distinction as Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav, from the President of the Republic of Guatemala the Guatemala Grand Order of Quetsal and from the President of the Republic of Timor-Leste, the Order of Timor. It is our great honour this year to award Gunnar Stålsett with the International Award For Religious Freedom.

National Award: Kit Bigelow

As director of external affairs for the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the U.S. for twenty-five years, Kit Bigelow had overall responsibility for the functioning of the Washington-based Office of External Affairs and of the Office of the U.S. Bahá'í Representative to the United Nations in New York. She retired from the position in June 2010.

Additionally, she had overall responsibility for the Bahá'í Refugee Office and the Office of Public Information until their integration into other agencies of the U.S. National Spiritual Assembly. Issues included human rights, religious freedom, the advancement of women, refugee affairs, sustainable development, media relations, and UN matters. She represented the National Spiritual Assembly in the promotion and protection of human rights, including religious freedom, the advancement of the rights of women, U.S. ratification of UN human rights treaties, and the elimination of racism. She advocated on these issues, often with other nongovernmental organizations, at the White House, the State Department, the Congress, and the United Nations.

She was responsible for informing the U.S. government and U.S. National news media about the persecution of the Bahá'í communities in Iran and other Muslim countries. She testified in numerous hearings and briefings before Congress on the oppression of the Bahá'ís in Iran and in Egypt.

For eight years, she was the co-chair of the national Working Group for U.S. Ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). She was actively involved in U.S. ratification of the UN Genocide Convention, the Convention Against Torture, the Convention on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention Against Racial Discrimination. She was the representative for the Bahá'ís of the U.S. at the 1993 UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna and the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. In March 2000, she served as a public sector adviser on the U.S. government delegation to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

It is our great honour this year to award Kit Bigelow with the National Award For Religious Freedom.

A.T. Jones Medal of Freedom: Edward Woods III

Edward Woods III serves as the volunteer Public Affairs and Religious Liberty (PARL) director for the Lake Region Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. In this role, he performs outreach and engages pastors, PARL leaders and members at the local level in developing and sustaining the PARL ministry.

Since 2008, Woods has led the conference efforts to build partnerships in establishing the annual PARL Forum, the PARL Leadership Conference, the 2008 Election Guide, practical workshops in how to develop an effective PARL ministry at the local level and the quarterly PARL newsletter. Recently, he created the Great Lakes Religious Liberty Association, an affiliate of the North American Religious Liberty Association (NARLA), where he serves as president.

Prior to his calling, Woods served more than ten years as a local PARL director at the Highland Avenue Seventh-day Adventist Church. As the local director, he consistently led one of the largest Liberty magazine campaigns in the conference, partnered with the faith-based community to promote voter participation, secured a visit from Michigan’s Governor Jennifer M. Granholm and U.S. Representative Fred Upton and conducted the annual PARL days attended by national, state, county and local civic leaders and ministers. He effectively interacted and built consensus with community leaders. His efforts led to the Ministerial Alliance moving their meetings from Saturdays to Wednesdays to accommodate all pastors in the area.

A sought-after speaker and presenter across denominational lines, Edward is passionate about public affairs and religious freedom. Woods has received many awards including the Certificate of Tribute from Governor Jennifer M. Granholm, the Enterprise Zone of the Year Award from the National Association of State Development Agencies for running a successful tax abatement program, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy of Leadership from Andrews University, the Outstanding Civic Leadership from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee, induction into the Twin Cities All-American Hall of Fame, and recognition by the conference and churches for outstanding leadership in public affairs and religious freedom.

Now working under his second governor, Edward has been the Office of Communications director for the Michigan Department of Human Services since 2008. Before that, he held the same position with the Michigan Department of Management and Budget.

In the community, Woods received the Valuable Volunteer Award from Reo Elementary in the Lansing Public School District, where he still volunteers today. He’s also a member of the Lansing Community College Board of Trustees, where he serves as vice chairperson. Woods serves his church, Bethel Seventh-day Adventist Church in Lansing, Mich., as elder, PARL director and communications director.

He completed his undergraduate studies at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Ala., where he currently serves as a member of the Board of Trustees. Woods earned his master’s in public administration degree from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich. He is married to Donnarie and they have two adorable children.

Volunteers like Edward keep NARLA alive in the local towns across the country. It is our great honor this year to award Edward Woods III with the A.T. Jones Medal.