The selection of boxing legend Muhammad Ali to receive the 2012 Liberty Medal has sparked debate, given his refusal four decades ago to fight in the Vietnam War. But his standing up for religious principles only makes the award more appropriate.

The boxer known more now for his advocacy of civil rights at home and abroad has been an ardent promoter of world peace and humanitarian causes. A sufferer of Parkinson’s disease, he also has helped raise funds for the Special Olympics and for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson’s Research Center in Phoenix.

As a conscientious objector in 1967, Ali demonstrated attributes that make the case for his being the choice of the National Constitution Center to honor a person who has exemplified values that this country holds in high regard.

His decision to refuse induction came after Ali had converted to the Muslim faith and changed his name from Cassius Clay Jr. He subsequently was stripped of the heavyweight boxing crown.

Ali, however, held firm to his convictions and eventually won a lengthy legal battle to have his boxing license restored. Later, the U.S. Supreme Court voided his five-year prison sentence for draft evasion.

Ali not only regained his heavyweight boxing title; he rose to even greater heights among sports giants in winning several legendary matches, including the so-called “Thrilla in Manila” in 1975 against Philadelphia boxing great Joe Frazier. Ali retired from the ring in 1981.

Ali, 70, will receive the Liberty Medal in a Sept. 13 ceremony. His wife, Yolanda, is expected to make remarks on behalf of Ali, whose speech has been affected by Parkinson’s.

First awarded in 1989, the prize’s recipients include Nelson Mandela, Sandra Day O’Connor, Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Bono and Colin Powell.

Editorial by the Philadelphia Inquirer distributed by MCT Information Services

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