Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) founder Alan Sears and his wife, Paula, have been chosen by Pope Francis for the highest possible honor the Catholic Church bestows on laypeople. The couple will be knighted into the Order of St. Gregory the Great.
“ADF has been an extraordinary help to Catholic educators and The Cardinal Newman Society over the past decade, as Catholic schools and colleges faced serious threats to their mission and religious freedom,” said Newman Society President Patrick Reilly. “What the Sears’ have accomplished by their hard work, generosity and deep faith in Christ is a testament to God’s grace and mercy. The honor is much-deserved.”
The pope is the only person who can bestow the honor upon those who have shown, “by their sustained service, extraordinary love for Jesus Christ and His Church” in their communities and countries.
Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix will formally convey the honor on behalf of Pope Francis at St. Bernadette Parish in Scottsdale, Az., on June 29.
The Cardinal Newman Society regularly consults ADF on legal issues regarding religious freedom. ADF was instrumental in helping the Newman Society oppose the U.S. Education Department’s “transgender bathroom” mandate  which was withdrawn earlier this year. Under the Obama administration, ADF and the Newman Society encouraged Catholic colleges to obtain advance religious exemption  letters from the Education Department to ensure protection before legal disputes arose.
The Newman Society has also been a vocal supporter of ADF’s case challenging a discriminatory Blaine Amendment  in Missouri’s state constitution. The case will go before the U.S. Supreme Court this year to decide if the state can rely on the historically anti-Catholic constitutional provision in its denial of a grant to a Christian preschool. The case has great importance to Catholic schools and colleges across the country.
By investing Sears in the Order of St. Gregory the Great, Pope Francis highlights the importance of those who defend religious freedom.
“Paula and I are more than humbled by this honor,” Alan Sears said in a press release . “Christians and people of goodwill everywhere should have the freedom to live what they believe and to follow their conscience.”
“We have counted it a privilege, with God’s grace, to do our part to protect these freedoms,” Sears said. “Pope Francis repeatedly has spoken strongly about religious liberty, marriage and family, and the sanctity of life, so it is a distinct honor to be recognized by him for our work in those areas.”