Former Prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush Friday at a White House ceremony, cited for his ongoing battle for liberty and justice. A statement released by the White House when the award was announced earlier this month said: "Natan Sharansky's life is the story of good conquering evil. He remains a powerful champion of the principles that all people deserve to live in freedom and that the advancement of liberty is critical to peace and security around the world. The United States honors Natan Sharansky for his contributions to the cause of democracy and freedom." Sharansky, 58, who was one of 10 individuals receiving the honor at the ceremony, stepped down from Israeli politics last month and now serves as a distinguished fellow at the Shalem Center, a conservative Jerusalem research institute, joins Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela and Pope John Paul II as the only non-American citizens to receive both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Medal of Honor. The medal is America's highest civilian honor, recognizing achievement in public service, science, the arts, education, athletics and other fields. Bush said the recipients were "exceptional individuals who have gained great admiration and respect throughout our country." Sharansky, who spent nine years in the Soviet gulag for his work to advance religious liberty and human rights, was previously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in 1986, the year he was freed from a Soviet prison and allowed to realize his dream of immigrating to Israel. Only 28 individuals have received both awards, including the American physician and researcher Jonas Salk, who is best known for the development of the first polio vaccine, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, and the US civil rights activist Rosa Parks. "The commitment of the American people and their leaders to democracy and freedom for every individual has always given, and continues to give, strength and hope to oppressed nationals and people around the world. I am deeply moved by having been chosen to receive this honor," Sharansky said when he was informed he would receive the award. He had previously been invited to the White House by Bush to discuss his book, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror. Others receiving the award with him Friday were:
Ruth Johnson Colvin, literacy advocate who has traveled the globe to help people learn reading and language skills.
Norman C. Francis, the president of Xavier University of Louisiana for nearly 40 years, who also played a lead role in helping the people of the Gulf Coast recover from Hurricane Katrina.
Paul Johnson, a historian and journalist honored for writings that have "captivated and educated people around the world."
B.B. King, the singer and guitarist considered the King of Blues.
Joshua Lederberg, the Nobel Prize winner for his work in bacterial genetics who also helped develop advanced computer technology and worked with NASA in the search for life on Mars.
David McCullough, the noted author and historian considered a foremost expert on the American presidency.
Norman Y. Mineta, the former US transportation secretary.
John "Buck" O'Neil, the former professional baseball player in the Negro Leagues and the first black coach in Major League Baseball and a co-founder of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, who died earlier this year.
William Safire, the writer and commentator honored for polishing the nation's language and elevating the debates of the day.