Editorial: Laws Award winners merit the recognition

We at The Republic will acknowledge a bias: We think the world of our retired publisher and columnist Bud Herron. We believe Herron, along with First Presbyterian Pastor Felipe Martinez, are outstanding choices to receive the prestigious William R. Laws Human Rights Award.

The honor to be presented to Herron and Martinez later this month is named after the late former pastor and social justice leader, the Rev. William R. Laws at Columbus’ First Presbyterian Church from 1950 to 1976. The award recognizes “those advocating for eliminating barriers facing people of color, women, persons with disabilities, religious minorities, or others who have been treated unequally because of prejudice; or those creating safeguards to protect the rights of others,” The Republic’s Brian Blair reported.

And while veteran reporter Blair couldn’t work this into his coverage of the award winners last week, he did share in newsroom conversation that in his view, Herron was among the most openly socially conscious publishers in his more than 40 years working for newspapers, including stints before The Republic.

But it was Herron’s work outside the newsroom that impressed those presenting the award.

“Herron will be honored for his 10 years as a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate for the nonprofit local Advocates For Children. CASA volunteers are trained to speak on behalf of children and youngsters linked to legal cases of abuse or neglect,” Blair wrote.

“The work was absolutely life-changing,” said Herron, who also wrote about the importance of the role. “I’ll humbly accept the award on behalf of all the children I worked with.”

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Pastor Felipe Martinez poses for a portrait at First Presbyterian church in downtown Columbus, Ind., Monday, Feb. 12, 2024.

Since his arrival in Columbus in 2015 to lead First Presbyterian, Martinez has been among the most visible and outspoken leaders for immigration reform, respect and equality for all, and racial and religious harmony. He also was pivotal among area leaders for helping six Afghan families relocate here.

“I’m very humbled by this award,” said Martinez. “To have my name mentioned even in the same breath as Dr. Laws’ is a rather amazing feeling. I’m committed to leading this congregation — the congregation that his legacy is still a part of. So this award is a recognition really of the work of this church.”

That sense of humility that Herron and Martinez expressed is the essence of the work for which they both will be honored at the Columbus Human Rights Commission’s annual dinner June 27 at The Commons. Humility and humanity go hand in hand, and the Laws Award recognizes recipients whose work represents the very highest ideals done only with one aim in mind: Helping others.

The good works of Herron and Martinez help ensure that everyone in our community is treated with respect and recognize that we all are entitled to fundamental human rights. And sometimes, it takes selfless individuals to help ensure that those truths are realized.

We applaud Herron and Martinez for their well-earned honors and thank them for providing exemplary models of humanity, humility and citizenship.