In recognition of their promotion of religious freedom, the founder of Alliance Defending Freedom and his wife will be inducted next week into the Order of St. Gregory the Great.

Alan and Paula Sears will receive the honor, granted to individuals for extraordinary service to the Church, at a June 29 service led by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix at St. Bernadette parish in Scottsdale, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix.

Bestowing the honor on the Sears "is a well-deserved recognition of their many years of defending religious freedom, standing up for the true meaning of marriage and family life, defending the dignity and right to life of every human person, and faithfully living their lay vocation in their home, their parish, and the public square," Bishop Olmsted has said.

The Order of St. Gregory the Great is granted to individuals for extraordinary service to the Catholic Church. It is one of several orders of pontifical knighthood, which the Church bestows to continue chivalric traditions and recognize merit and service. It can be given to both Catholics and non-Catholics, and was established in 1831 by Gregory XVI.

Previous recipients include Leo Nester, professor emeritus of choral and sacred music at the Catholic University of America; Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics; Chen Chien-jen, vice president of Taiwan; Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus; and Polish composer Henryk Gorécki.

Alan Sears founded Alliance Defending Freedom in 1994. The non-profit legal organization advocates for religious liberty, and has defended the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family, and has upheld the rights to free speech and conscientious objection.

"Paula and I are more than humbled by this honor. Christians and people of goodwill everywhere should have the freedom to live what they believe and to follow their conscience, what James Madison called 'the most sacred of all property,'" Sears said in a June 15 statement.

"We have counted it a privilege, with God's grace, to do our part to protect these freedoms. Pope Francis repeatedly has spoken strongly about religious liberty, marriage and family, and the sanctity of life, so it is a distinct honor to be recognized by him for our work in those areas."

Paula added that "the world benefits when the Gospel is freely preached and lived … We are blessed to have had the opportunity to support and encourage those who have sacrificially shared that message and their lives with others. We are very humbled and grateful to Pope Francis for this honor and additionally thank him for his leadership in these areas."

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Since founding Alliance Defending Freedom alongside several other Christian leaders, Alan Sears served as the organization's president, CEO, and general counsel until the beginning of 2017. He has since transitioned into a founder's role at the non-profit.

He was succeeded as president, CEO, and general counsel in January by Michael Farris.

Farris commented that "I am personally grateful for Alan and Paula's 23 years of sacrificial service to ADF and, therefore, also grateful to Pope Francis for bestowing them with this incredible honor. It's amazing to be part of an organization that would not be where it is today without their tireless efforts and service to the body of Christ and beyond."

Alan Sears served in several positions under the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations in the Departments of Justice and the Interior. He earned his doctorate in law from the University of Louisville School of Law, and had previously graduated from the University of Kentucky.

He is a member in good standing with the American, Arizona, California, District of Columbia (inactive), and Kentucky bar associations.