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Do celebs have a right to be outspoken?

Cause Celebre: Actors and Their First Amendment Rights

As far as I know, celebrities, like other American citizens, have the right to express their opinions in this country under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. Occasionally they do it for publicity, but most often they lend their voices and whatever power their familiarity wields to social and political causes in which they believe. And sometimes at some peril to their projects and status in fans’ eyes. 

The other day, actress Lisa Edelstein (House, M.D.) appeared in a television ad from the organization MoveOn.org. The ad expresses the concern that in the current political climate, a woman’s right to privacy and her right to an abortion may soon give way to a day when the only way a woman can abort a fetus is to resort to the dangerous and infamous “coat hanger” do-it-yourself abortions of ages past.

Already, there are states where doctors who perform abortions are virtually non-existent. There are alarming reports of state-level legislation targeting doctors who do perform them, even going so far as to make murder in the defense of an unborn fetus “justifiable homicide.” One such bill in South Dakota (HB1171), originally scheduled for a vote this week, has been put off until next week, while the sponsors reconsider the incendiary nature of its language.

The newly empowered conservatives in Congress have several proposals (including H.R. 3) in development to make it more difficult (if not impossible) for women to have an abortion—even in cases where the woman’s life is at stake. Personally I am pro-life and pro-choice. There is no mutual exclusivity to the the terms. But that is not for this article.

Celebrities have inserted themselves into the political debate for decades, even running for Governor, Congress—even president (many of those, including Sony Bono, Fred Grandy, and of course, Ronald Reagan, have been conservatives). Although those promoting a progressive/liberal agenda seem to outnumber those with a more conservative point of view, there are celebrities on all sides of the political spectrum who raise their voices in support of a particular agenda.

Clint Eastwood and Charlton Heston have for years spoken up about their views (and the NRA’s) on gun ownership rights and what they believe is an attack on the Constitution’s Second Amendment. Chuck Norris writes for conservative news outlet WorldNet Daily.

I’m not a big fan of Norris, and probably wouldn’t watch his movies even if he was the most liberal of liberals. On the other hand, I like Eastwood. He’s a brilliant director (and, on a House note, since this article began with Lisa Edelstein’s activism, he’s the perfect actor to play House’s birth father if he makes an appearance in the series).

And speaking of House’s dad, R. Lee Ermy (who plays House’s now-deceased father), is a very outspoken conservative. He also voices Sarge in the Toy Story movies. Am I going to boycott Toy Story movies? Not likely! But this actor, who has played one marine after the other, ever since his indelible performance in Full Metal Jacket (1987), ranted earlier this winter, “I think we should all rise up and we should stop this administration from what they’re doing because they’re destroying this country,” accusing the Obama Administration of remaking the U.S. into a socialist country. The retired gunnery sergeant later apologized for his rage. 

Celebrities using familiar names and faces in support of causes are nothing new. Their right to speak up and speak out should be no more or less than anyone else’s. It’s hard to forget that Hollywood was a specific target during one of the darkest periods in our history. In the days of Senator Joe McCarthy, actors, actresses, writers, directors, and producers were blacklisted and attacked for their beliefs. Those scars lasted for years after McCarthy slinked back into the woodwork from which he had crawled. It was only because of people using their public profiles to speak out—from Edward R. Murrow to Humphrey Bogart—that this era fortunately came to an end. At least for now.

About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books.Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."

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