Established in 1969, the Presidential Citizens Medal is the second highest honor for a civilian, recognizing Americans “who have performed exemplary deeds of service for the nation.” Past recipients include boxer Muhammad Ali, baseball great Henry “Hank” Aaron, civil rights icon Dorothy Height, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Today, President Bush honored 24 recipients of this year’s award, including actor Gary Sinise and Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp. Also included in that mix was Chuck Colson, “the first member of the Nixon administration to serve prison time for Watergate-related offenses.” Colson was President Nixon’s counsel from 1969-1973 and pleaded guilty in 1974 to obstruction of justice. Colson received a one to three year sentence, but served just seven months. David Plotz at Slate described Colson’s role in the Nixon administration:
As special counsel to the president, he was Richard Nixon’s hard man, the “evil genius” of an evil administration. According to Watergate historian Stanley Kutler, Colson sought to hire Teamsters thugs to beat up anti-war demonstrators, and he plotted to raid or firebomb the Brookings Institution. He eventually pleaded guilty to scheming to defame Daniel Ellsberg and interfering with his trial.
Since that time, Colson has become an evangelical prison reformer, running the nonprofit Prison Fellowship, which advocates for “privately run prisons and the delivery of all social services by faith-based groups.” However, according to author Allan Lichtman in “White Protestant Nation,” Colson has also remained involved in conservative politics:
Colson brought together politically conservative Catholics and Protestands for a statement of common beliefs, advised conservative politicians including Texas governor George W. Bush, and worked with Christian right leaders Pat Robertson and James Dobson on the development of political strategy. He disseminated conservative messages on sex roles, abortion, homosexuality, pornography, gay rights, and separation of church and state in his radio broadcasts and columns, reaching millions of Americans.
On October 3, 2002, Colson was also one of the co-signers of a letter from prominent evangelical leaders supporting an invasion of Iraq. More recently he has spoken out in favor of California’s Prop. 8, accusing the LGBT community of “anti-religious bigotry.”