Chen Guangcheng


Chen Guangcheng, known to many as "the barefoot lawyer," was born in 1971 in a remote village in Shandong, China. The son of a poor farmer, Chen was left permanently blind by illness as an infant, and his family had few resources to support him. But despite his disability, he was determined to educate himself, eventually learning to read and write at age 18 when he began attending a school for the blind. He would be the first person in his family to earn a college degree.

At school, Chen was confronted with numerous instances of injustice occurring around him, and began speaking out. He took an interest in the law, but, being blind, was not permitted to study for a law degree. Over time, with the help of his close family, he taught himself law and began working on legal cases related to issues of civil rights and disability. His successful lawsuit against the Beijing Metro Corporation resulted in free ridership for the blind across China. The international media took notice, eventually dubbing him “the barefoot lawyer,” referencing the rural “barefoot doctors” of the Cultural Revolution.

Living at home in his village, his legal work eventually lead to his investigation into the violent campaign carried out by the authorities to enforce the so-called One Child Policy. He came under notice by the authorities, beginning a period of harassment and detention that would last over seven years, including repeated house arrests, black jails, and a four-year prison sentence. After nearly two years of brutal detention in his own home, he escaped his village, later seeking safety at the American embassy in Beijing. High-level diplomatic negotiations secured his travel to the US, where he became a student at NYU Law School in 2012.

Since beginning his advocacy work, Chen has been the recipient of numerous awards including Time Magazine 100 Most Influential List (2006), The Ramon Magsaysay Award (2007), The Lantos Human Rights Prize (2012), the UK Parliament’s Westminster Award (2013), the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy Courage Award (2014), and the Leopoldo Lopez Freedom and Democracy Award from Kenyon College (2021). He has established a not-for-profit foundation to further human rights in China, and serves as Distinguished Fellow at the Catholic University of America, Distinguished Senior Fellow in Human Rights at the Witherspoon Institute, and Senior Distinguished Advisor to the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.

Mr. Chen’s memoir, The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man’s Fight for Justice and Freedom in China, was released by Henry Holt Publishers in 2015.


William L. Saunders


William L. Saunders is a religious liberty and human rights scholar at The Catholic University of America. He is Law Fellow with the Institute for Human Ecology, Professor and Director of the Program in Human Rights in the School of Arts & Sciences and Co-director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Columbus School of Law. He is Chair of the Religious Liberties Practice Group of the Federalist Society. Before joining The Catholic University of America, Mr. Saunders served as Senior Vice President and Senior Counsel with Americans United for Life for ten years. From 1999 to 2009, he was Senior Fellow in Bioethics and Human Rights Counsel at the Family Research Council.

Mr. Saunders attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a Morehead scholarship. He obtained his degree in law from the Harvard Law School.

Mr. Saunders was featured in Harvard’s first Guide to Conservative Public Interest Law in 2003 and again in the 2008 edition. He served on Harvard’s Advisory Committee for its 2008 celebration of public interest law. A member of the Supreme Court bar, he has authored numerous legal briefs in state, federal, foreign, and international courts.

Mr. Saunders’ new book, Unborn Human Life and Fundamental Rights: Leading Constitutional Cases Under Scrutiny, will be published in 2019. His articles and book chapters have been published by the university presses of Harvard, Villanova, Brigham Young, Fordham, Georgetown, Houston, Scranton, and The Catholic University of America, as well as by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Freedom House, Greenhaven Press, Rowan & Littlefield, Praeger, St. Augustine’s, and Intervarsity press. He has given lectures and participated in debates at many colleges, universities, and law schools, including Princeton, Harvard, Georgetown, and Notre Dame. He delivered the annual J. Michael Miller Lecture at the University of St. Thomas (on international law) in February 2007, the annual R. Wayne Kraft Memorial Lecture (on bioethics) at DeSales University in February 2004 and the annual James Moore Lecture (on human rights violations in Sudan) at Millikin University in 1999. He has also lectured, and/or has been published, in many foreign countries, including Italy, Germany, Poland, Austria, Spain, Greece, Slovakia, Mexico, Qatar, Malaysia, Romania, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom.

In addition to speaking and writing frequently on bioethics topics, Mr. Saunders has submitted testimony to the President’s Council on Bioethics, as well as to UNESCO’s Committee on Bioethics, and has briefed Congressional staff and state legislatures. He is a regular columnist for the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly.

Mr. Saunders has appeared often in the media, including BBC World News, CNN, Fox News, EWTN, Vatican Radio, and National Public Radio. His articles on issues have appeared in a variety of journals, such as First Things, Human Events, Human Life Review, The Legal Times, Communio, The Family in America: A Journal of Public Policy, Ethics & Medics, and Touchstone.

Mr. Saunders served on the official United States delegation to the UN Special Session on Children in 2001/02. In 2011, he was a speaker at an official briefing at the UN, addressing the topic, why euthanasia is not a human right.

In 2004, he served on the NGO Working Committee in connection with the Doha Intergovernmental Conference for the Family.

Mr. Saunders is Senior Fellow with the Religious Freedom Institute, and Affiliated Scholar with the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Ethics at the Georgetown University School of Medicine. He is President of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars and a member of the boards of the International Right to Life Federation, the Institute on Religion and Democracy, and the Society of Catholic Social Scientists.

In 1999, Mr. Saunders founded Sudan Relief and Rescue, Inc., to aid the persecuted church and to combat slavery and genocide in Sudan. He continues to work and write on the subjects of religious persecution, slavery, and genocide.


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