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At the First Freedom Award ceremony. 

Free Spirits

This ain't Texas: At most elegant, ceremonial occasions — especially indoor events — wearing a 10-gallon cowboy hat is downright gauche. But when the man in the hat is being honored; who's going to say anything? On Tuesday, Jan. 16, the state marked the 215th anniversary of the General Assembly's passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. In what has become a midwinter tradition, an ecumenical cross section of Virginians and their guests gathered to salute the legacy of the seminal, 1786 law advocated by Jefferson, Mason and Madison. For many years, the Richmond-based Council for America's First Freedom has used the occasion to commend individuals whose lives it believes embody universal religious freedom. This year, Jay M. Ipson, co-founder and executive director of the Virginia Holocaust Museum and a concentration-camp survivor, wearing his trademark cowboy hat along with a tuxedo, was presented the Virginia First Freedom Award. This year's awards ceremony was held at the art-filled Cary Street Road home of Jackson L. Blanton, a council trustee, collector and an officer of the Federal Reserve Bank. Former recipients of the medal who attended included Richmonders Mary Tyler McClenahan, Neilson J. November, Tommy Baer and Bishop Walter F. Sullivan of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. "Do you wear that hat in the shower?" quipped the bishop to Lithuanian-born Ipson. The National First Freedom Award went to U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf, who has represented Virginia's 10th District in Congress since 1980. The Northern Virginia representative was a prime mover in the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. This law is aimed at combating religious persecution worldwide and advocates human rights in Europe, Southeast Asia and Africa. "I accept this award on behalf of those being persecuted worldwide," said Wolf. As guests offered their congratulations to the honorees and inspected the gallerylike but homey surroundings of the Blanton manse, Jay Ipson and his broad-rimmed hat looked right at home as he moved among at least three horse sculptures on display. Presenting the award to Wolf was his former colleague Tom Bliley, who represented the 7th District for 20 years before retiring earlier this month. Would the Blileys be attending the Bush inaugural? "No," replied Mary Virginia Bliley, a Council trustee, during the buffet reception following the presentations. "We'll be in Charlottesville for a board of visitors meeting at
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