He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony on November 9, 2005, and the "Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold" of the United Nations Association of Germany (DGVN) in Berlin for his work with the US civil rights movement and the United Nations (December 17, 2005).
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is a decoration bestowed by the President of the United States and is, along with the equivalent Congressional Gold Medal bestowed by an act of U.S. Congress, the highest civilian award in the U.S. It recognizes those individuals 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." The award is not limited to U.S. citizens and, while it is a civilian award, it can also be awarded to military personnel and worn on the uniform.
George W. Bush honored the boxer, Muhammad Ali, and 13 others with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, called "the nation's highest civilian award," on November 9 at the White House. The president praised Ali for his sports accomplishments and called him "The Greatest of All Time."
Fine, but he then proceeded to laud Ali's character: "The real mystery, I guess, is how he stayed so pretty. It probably had to do with his beautiful soul. He was a fierce fighter and he's a man of peace. … Across the world, billions of people know Muhammad Ali as a brave, compassionate, and charming man, and the American people are proud to call Muhammad Ali one of our own."
In this giddy, fawning statement, Mr. Bush did not, the Washington Post astringently noted, "mention Ali's very public opposition to the Vietnam War, which led the prizefighter to lose his boxing license for three years when he refused to serve in the Army." Worse, his refusal to fight was not because he was "a man of peace" but rather because his allegiance was to the stridently anti-American, anti-white organization known as the Nation of Islam, headed by the malign Elijah Muhammad.
Forty years ago, Ali explained his draft evasion: "War is against the teachings of the Holy Koran. I'm not trying to dodge the draft. We are supposed to take part in no wars unless declared by Allah or The Messenger [i.e., Elijah Muhammad]. We don't take part in Christian wars or wars of any unbelievers." A draft evader, incidentally, is particularly ill-suited to receive the Medal of Freedom, which was created in 1945 to recognize "notable service" in World War II.