Chriss H. Doss, Director of the Center for the Study of Law and the Church at Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, will receive the first Walter Cronkite Faith and Freedom Award, presented by The Interfaith Alliance in recognition of his work as the court-appointed monitor in the DeKalb County, Ala., school prayer case.
Cronkite, the former CBS news anchor, will present the award on Friday, April 9, at a noon ceremony at The Lotus Club in New York City. According to The Interfaith Alliance, the award honors an individual whose courageous actions have embodied the values of civility, tolerance, diversity, and cooperation in the advancement of public dialogue and policy on traditionally controversial and divisive issues.
Doss, a Baptist minister, was appointed by U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent to monitor the enforcement of his October 1997 injunction placing restrictions on school-sponsored religious activities in DeKalb County. The lawsuit filed against the DeKalb County Board of Education by Assistant Principal Michael Chandler charged that the school system forced his son to participate in Bible readings and prayer at school.
Doss' work as the monitor brought a storm of criticism from opponents of the suit. But, according to the letter of nomination written by Birmingham attorney Pamela Sumners, who represented Chandler, "Doss retained his civility as he challenged us to embrace reason, not rhetoric ... He doggedly explained the injunction to Alabama church leaders, civic groups and students, calming rough waters into which no one else wanted to wade."
Others writing to support the nomination were Samford President Thomas E. Corts; Doss' minister, Gary Furr of Vestavia Hills Baptist Church; and Troy L. Morrison, executive director emeritus of the Alabama Baptist State Convention.
Doss holds a B.A. from Howard College, now Samford University; a master's degree in library science from Drexel University; and is a graduate of Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He graduated from Samford's Cumberland School of Law in 1968. After serving as the law school's librarian from 1964-67, he was executive director of the Alabama Democratic Executive Committee, then served four years in the Alabama legislature. He was a Jefferson County Commissioner for 12 years, including five as commission president. Since 1987, he has directed the Center for the Study of Law and the Church at Cumberland, where he is an adjunct professor. Throughout his career, Doss has practiced law and has served as pastor or interim pastor to Baptist churches throughout Alabama and Pennsylvania.
Founded in 1994, The Interfaith Alliance involves people from more than 50 faith traditions who are committed to challenging those who manipulate religion to promote divisive and exclusionary political agendas. TIA reports a membership of 80,000, with alliances in 38 states.
Awards committee members included The Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA; former President Gerald R. Ford; U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.); broadcast journalists Bill Moyers and Cokie Roberts; Andrew Young, chairman of Goodworks International, LLC.; and The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, executive director of The Interfaith Alliance and its foundation.