A nun who grew up in Long Beach, and who has focused her work over at least the past two decades on social justice issues that often run counter to America’s more conservative Roman Catholic leaders, will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom next week, the White House announced Friday morning, July 1.
Sister Simone Campbell, the former executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice organization, was named as one of 17 people who will receive the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Campbell is a longtime social justice lobbyist in Washington, D.C., advocating for racial and economic justice, the Affordable Care Act — the key legislative achievement of former President Barack Obama — immigration reform and other causes. The liberal stalwart, who left NETWORK in early 2021 after 16 years, also founded that organization’s Nuns on the Bus — where nuns travel across the country advocating on federal policies.
Campbell, who attended St. Anthony’s High School in Long Beach, is a member of Sisters of Social Service, in Los Angeles. She refers to herself as a “mischief maker” on her Twitter bio.
The Medal of Freedom is awarded to individuals “who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal public or private endeavors,” according to a White House news release.
While many recipients are iconic figures in U.S. history, from athletes to elected officials — Obama awarded the medal to Yankee great Yogi Berra while President Donald Trump gave it to Babe Ruth — deciding who receives one also often has a political bent.
Obama, for example, gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to late U.S. Sen. Daniel Ken Inouye, a staunch Democrat from Hawaii. Trump awarded the medal to conservative Republican firebrand and talk radio host Rush Limbaugh.
The list of recipients President Joe Biden will honor next week also includes:
- Diane Nash, a co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr.
- Alan Simpson, former U.S. senator from Wyoming who has advocated for campaign finance reform and marriage equality.
- Richard Trumka, former president of AFL-CIO who died last year.
- Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, one of the most decorated women in U.S. military history.
- Raúl Yzaguirre, former CEO and president of National Council of La Raza and former U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic under Obama.
Campbell, for her part, has made a career advocating for liberal causes. In 2020, she even gave the invocation at the Democratic National Convention.
As such, she has often run afoul of the more conservative U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, according to Religion News Service.
Biden, who will present the medal to her and the 16 others on Thursday, July 7, is also a devout Catholic and lifelong Democrat.
The White House’s announcement comes as the Supreme Court — with six Republican-appointed justices, including three Catholics — has taken a hard turn to the right. As its term has ended, the court has upheld the right of a public high school football coach to pray with his players on the field — and last week, in its biggest shift from precendent, overturned Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to an abortion.
Campbell, in the past, has said Catholics have been too focused on trying to criminalize abortion nationwide, while steering clear of discussing her own moral stance.
Additional Medal of Freedom recipients include Julieta García, the first Hispanic woman to serve as a college president when she led The University of Texas at Brownsville; Fred Gray, an attorney who represented Rosa Parks, the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr.; Rev. Alexander Karloutsos, former vicar general of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, who provided counsel to several U.S. presidents; Khizr Khan, a Gold Star father who served on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom under Biden; and Sandra Lindsay, a New York nurse who was the first American to receive a COVID-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials.