Bill Cosby could soon have another honor revoked, as Congress seeks to put into place a mechanism that would allow President Obama to take back the comedian’s Presidential Medal of Freedom. Cosby has already been stripped of a number of honorary degrees, but at this time, the accused rapist continues to hold honorary degrees from institutions such as Notre Dame and Temple, still has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and retains his Presidential Medal of Freedom, which cannot be revoked absent new legislation.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award available in the United States. Although entertainers like Cosby are frequent recipients, the honor is specifically awarded to those who offer “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
When Bill Cosby received his Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002, he was part of a class of about a dozen recipients that included Nancy Reagan, Nelson Mandela, and Fred Rogers.
Over 10 years later, and now facing multiple allegations of sexual assault, many called for Cosby’s Presidential Medal of Freedom to be revoked, starting last summer. The problem was that, at the time, there was no mechanism in place to revoke that particular honor.
According to the Washington Post, President Obama weighed in on the issue of revoking a Presidential Medal of Freedom in general, without specifically addressing the Cosby allegations.
“There’s no precedent for revoking a medal. We don’t have that mechanism.”
Lawmakers in Congress are now working to put that mechanism in place. The Washington Post reports that Representative Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) plans to introduce legislation that would allow the president to revoke a Presidential Medal of Freedom. The legislation would also introduce criminal penalties for anyone found to continue wearing or displaying a Presidential Medal of Freedom after having it revoked.
Although Bill Cosby’s court process has only just begun and the comedian hasn’t yet been convicted of anything, Representative Gosar suggested that revoking this particular honor is appropriate due to past admissions of guilt.
“Now I want to be very clear about one thing: It is true that there is a presumption of innocence in the American legal system, and rightly so. And while our criminal justice system will ultimately determine whether Cosby serves jail time for any of the crimes of which he has been accused, Cosby’s own admissions to drugging women in order to satisfy his sexual desires place him outside the bounds of whom we should admire in our society.”
Congressman Gosar further quotes one of his constituents in saying that Cosby losing a civilian honor such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom should not require a conviction.
“Civilian honors such as this come with no legal protections or guarantees,” Arizona resident Dennis Luis wrote, via Gosar’s press release. “Honors are optional, and not anyone’s legal right to have and keep. The bar should be extraordinarily high for the Medal of Freedom, and to keep Cosby as a recipient greatly diminishes the very worth of that honor.”
Cosby has received a number of honors over the course of his career, including honorary degrees and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Some of these honors remain his, while others were stripped before Cosby even saw his first day in court.
According to Time, Cosby’s honorary degrees from Spelman College, Drexel University, the University of Pittsburgh, and others were revoked last November before charges were even brought against the comedian.
Others have refused to take action. For instance, Vulture reports that Notre Dame doesn’t revoke honorary degrees, although the university did issue a statement to “encourage and support our students and others to report sexual assault and remind them that a person incapacitated — whether by alcohol, drugs, or otherwise — is incapable of giving consent to sexual activity.”
Cosby’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is another honor that does not appear to be in any danger of being revoked. According to the Hollywood Reporter, no star has ever been removed from the Walk, so it seems unlikely that Cosby would be the first.
“The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce has received inquiries asking whether we are planning to remove the star of Bill Cosby. The answer is no,” Leron Gubler, President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, told the Hollywood Reporter. “The Hollywood Walk of Fame is a registered historic landmark. Once a star has been added to the Walk, it is considered a part of the historic fabric of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Because of this, we have never removed a star from the Walk.”
Cosby’s Presidential Medal of Freedom is another matter entirely. The legislation introduced by Representative Gosar specifically addresses Bill Cosby, and while Congress itself cannot revoke the honor, the legislation would “affirm the power of the President to revoke the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to Bill Cosby.”
“We’ll take a look at the proposal if Congress takes a vote on it, and we’ll let you know if the president chooses to sign it,” Press Secretary Josh Earnest told the Washington Post in regards to Gosar’s bill.
Earnest expressed concern over the precedent that the bill might set, which could result in future Congresses attempting to undo other awards, although he was careful to state that the Obama administration does not want to take a position that could be construed as supporting Cosby’s behavior.
Do you think it’s appropriate for Congress to revoke an honor like the Presidential Medal of Freedom before Bill Cosby even has his day in court?
[Photo by Matt Rourke/AP]