NOTRE DAME, Ind. (CNS) — Praised for their “heroic and tireless efforts” to affirm a culture of life, the Knights of Columbus received the University of Notre Dame’s Evangelium Vitae Medal.

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson received the award for the Knights during ceremonies at the university April 26.

The Knights were acknowledged for contributing tens of millions of dollars and volunteer hours to worthy causes and ongoing support for various pro-life initiatives.

The medal, and its $10,000 prize, has been awarded annually since 2011 by the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture to honor individuals or organizations for outstanding work affirming and defending the sanctity of human life. It is named for St. Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical “The Gospel of Life.”

Anderson said the prize money would be donated to Notre Dame’s Charles E. Rice Fellowship program. The fund is named for the late law professor Anderson described as a good friend and “tireless advocate for life.”

The Knights’ leader urged participants at the award banquet to take bold action in efforts for “a new evangelization of American freedom” and stressed that Catholic institutions must be allowed to fulfill their mission of treating each human person with dignity.

The free exercise of religion must be preserved, he stressed, for “the autonomy of our religious institutions is not extrinsic to the missionary nature of Christianity; rather it is essential to it.”

Anderson noted that during President Barack Obama’s speech at the 2009 Notre Dame graduation, the president said a way to find common ground about abortion was “to honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion and draft a sensible conscience clause” for the Health and Human Services mandate implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“Six years later, that goal has still not been achieved,” Anderson said.

He said the Obama administration has been “stubbornly intransigent” on the issue even after discussions with Catholic bishops, cardinals and the Vatican secretary of state.

“During a time when the search for common ground and consensus received heightened rhetoric in Washington, the act itself has become an example of the way in which Washington is becoming less democratic and less capable of consensus,” he added.

The message of the HHS mandate is that “Catholic institutions remain free to fashion their own identity as long as that identity conforms to the dictates of government,” Anderson said.