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What is the Presidential Medal of Freedom?

By Jacob Queen
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Presidential Medal of Freedom is an award given to civilians in the United States. It is the highest and most prestigious award that can be given to people for non-military-related activities. The president has sole authority regarding who receives the medal, and they are usually given for some major accomplishment that results in the betterment of society or for a lifetime body of civilian-oriented work. People who commonly receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom would include individuals like scientists, world leaders, and activists who pushed important causes.

President Harry Truman was the man behind the idea for a Presidential Medal of Freedom. It was originally designed as a way to give some kind of honor to people who helped with World War II from a civilian standpoint. Several were given out, and the award wasn’t ever used for anything else. Eventually, President John Kennedy revived the award and came up with a broader scope of uses for it. He made a lot of changes to the law surrounding the award and set things up so that the president has the sole discretion about who receives it. After Kennedy was assassinated, he was actually one of the award's early recipients.

The laws set up around the award give the president a lot of latitude about choosing award winners. The medal can even be given to citizens of other countries besides the US. There was a group initially set up to recommend candidates to the president, but it was later abolished.

Some people think that certain presidents abused the award by using it as a political tool or only awarding people that agree with them on certain issues. Some presidents have also been accused of being too free about giving the award out. Since it is supposed to be the nation’s second highest award behind the Congressional Medal of Honor, many people feel that the Presidential Medal of Freedom should be given out very rarely.

In terms of appearance, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is a white star, or at least that is the first thing a person would likely notice when looking at it. There is a circular formation of golden eagles surrounding the star, and in the middle, there are several small golden stars inside a blue-colored circle. The award traditionally hangs from a blue ribbon with white trim.

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Discussion Comments
By Lostnfound — On Mar 30, 2014

At least Fred Rogers received the Medal of Freedom! I think that's probably one person who received it and no one would argue whether he deserved it or not. There are others, of course, who would also fall into this category, but anyone who doesn't love Mr. Rogers probably needs a little therapy.

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