I was reading about the Presidential Medal of Freedom and how the president of the United States awards this medal to people who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors".

That seems like a very vague description of the kind of person that can be presented with the Medal of Freedom, so I would like to know if there are any specific requirements a potential candidate for the medal must meet before he or she is considered eligible or can the president, in theory, just present the medal to anyone who they've considered to have contributed to 'significant public or private endeavors'.

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    Tyler, you might be interested to see a list of recipients under the Obama Presidency. It does seem that anyone can get the medal, and it's not new to this administration.
    – JPhi1618
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 21:38

1 Answer 1


Short Answer

The president can give the Presidential Medal of Freedom to anybody at any time. The choice is entirely at his/her discretion.

Medal of Freedom – Truman

The link in your question leads to a description of the "Medal of Freedom", an award created by President Harry Truman in 1945, under Executive Order 9586.

This is NOT the medal that we know today, or that President Trump conferred upon Rush Limbaugh at the State of the Union address on February 4, 2020.

A clear hint of this can be seen on your linked page in section 3, which states: "The Medal of Freedom shall not be awarded to a citizen of the United States for any act or service performed within the continental limits of the United States..."

In fact, the work that earned Mr. Limbaugh the award was done exclusively in the United States. (The Medal of Freedom was intended to honor people who served or aided the U.S. in WW2.)

Presidential Medal of Freedom – Kennedy

The award we know today is actually the "Presidential Medal of Freedom", which was established by President Kennedy in 1963, under Executive Order 11085. It replaced Truman's "Medal of Freedom".

There are various provisions in the EO describing who can receive the award but, in reality, the President can give the medal to anybody he/she chooses, whenever he/she chooses.

Sec. 2. Award of the Medal.

(a) The Medal may be awarded by the President as provided in this order to any person who has made an especially meritorious contribution to (1), the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

(b) The President may select for award of the Medal any person nominated by the Board referred to in Section 3(a) of this Order, any person otherwise recommended to the President for award of the Medal, or any person selected by the President upon his own initiative.

(c) The principal announcement of awards of the Medal shall normally be made annually, on or about July 4 of each year; but such awards may be made at other times, as the President may deem appropriate.

(d) Subject to the provisions of this Order, the Medal may be awarded posthumously.

emphasis mine

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    Comments deleted. This question is about the medal in general. This is not the place to debate if specific people deserve it or not and for what reasons.
    – Philipp
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 11:46
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    I think it would be worth mentioning some examples of Medal of Freedom recipients over the years. Ellen Degeneres (Obama), Bill Cosby (Bush II), Billy Graham (Reagan), Arthur Ashe (Clinton), Joe DiMaggio (Ford)...the award has a long history of being given to basically anyone with any notoriety by multiple Presidents, showing that it really is entirely up to the discretion of POTUS.
    – Shamshiel
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 13:46
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    Thanks for disambiguating between the two similarly named medals, Michael! Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 20:10
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    It's like the American version of a knighthood then, I guess?
    – user29681
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 2:32
  • Is there a legal definition for personhood (I am not trying to be funny or frivolous, English is not my first language and besides there are e.g. medals for service animals, although these might have been created for the purpose) ? Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 9:22

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