The Washington-based Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty presented its J.M. Dawson Religious Liberty Award to Mercer University President William D. Underwood during the organization’s annual Religious Liberty Council Luncheon in Charlotte, N.C., on June 25 during the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly. Also receiving the Dawson Award at the luncheon was the Rev. Dr. Gardner Taylor, one of the founders of the Progressive National Baptist Convention and a religious leader during the Civil Rights Movement.
The J.M. Dawson Religious Liberty Award was established on the 50th anniversary of the Baptist Joint Committee in 1986. The award recognizes contributions of individuals in the area of the free exercise of religion and church-state.
Prior recipients include Bill Moyers, Jimmy Carter and Tony Campolo. Underwood, who served as the Baptist Joint Committee’s first collegiate intern in 1981, also delivered the luncheon’s keynote address, titled “A Christian Nation: But Which Christianity?”
President Underwood (right) receives the J.M. Dawson Religious Liberty Award from Baptist Joint Committee Executive Director J. Brent Walker.
Prior to becoming Mercer’s 18th president on July 1, 2006, President Underwood served at Baylor University as interim president and held the prestigious Leon Jaworski Chair at the Baylor School of Law. An accomplished educator and scholar, he was designated a Master Teacher at Baylor in recognition of extraordinary classroom teaching over an extended period. He is an elected member of the American Law Institute and the American Bar Foundation.
Underwood was awarded the J.D. degree summa cum laude by the University of Illinois College of Law in 1985, where he graduated as class salutatorian and was an editor of the University of Illinois Law Review. Following graduation, he clerked for the Honorable Sam D. Johnson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, prior to practicing law for several years with a large law firm in Dallas. He also holds an undergraduate degree from Oklahoma Baptist University.