President George W. Bush presented the Dalai Lama with the United States Congress's highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal. The decision to award the Dalai Lama the Congressional Gold Medal reflects the great esteem in which the American people hold the Dalai Lama as a revered religious figure, a Nobel laureate, and an important cultural figure.
By publicly honoring the Dalai Lama, President Bush said, "America raises its voice in the call for religious liberty and basic human rights:"
"An era that has seen unprecedented number of nations embrace individual freedom has also witnessed the stubborn endurance of religious repression. Americans cannot look to the plight of the religiously oppressed and close our eyes or turn away. And that is why I will continue to urge the leaders of China to welcome the Dalai Lama to China. They will find this good man to be a man of peace and reconciliation."
An internationally-revered spiritual leader and man of peace who has met with many world leaders, the Dalai Lama has worked tirelessly over the past several decades to improve respect for religious freedom and human rights in his native Tibet. He has lived in exile in India since 1959. In his Congressional Gold Medal acceptance speech, the Dalai Lama stated that he is seeking meaningful autonomy for Tibet and not independence.
Recent legal measures have expanded and deepened Chinese government control over the practice of Tibetan Buddhism, including imposing restrictions on the operation of monasteries, the training and travel of Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns, and the recognition of lamas and other important religious leaders.
"Freedom of belief," said President Bush, "is the yearning of the human spirit, a blessing offered to the world, and a cherished value of our nation." Throughout America's history, said Mr. Bush, "we have stood proudly with those who offer a message of hope and freedom to the world's downtrodden and oppressed." The Dalai Lama, said Mr. Bush, "is a symbol of peace and tolerance, a shepherd for the faithful, and the keeper of the flame for his people."