Neil Young may be Canadian, but the veteran rock star was honored Tuesday for promoting freedom and justice in his adopted country.
People for the American Way, a free-speech advocacy group formed 20 years ago to combat the so-called “religious right,” presented Young with its Spirit of Liberty lifetime achievement award during its annual fundraising dinner in Beverly Hills.
Young, in turn, raised a few eyebrows among the liberal crowd by defending anti-terrorist measures that have angered civil rights groups. But he urged the audience to ensure the controversial measures were only temporary.
“Never let America forget that these are our rights and we can get them back,” said Young, who recently recorded the song “Let’s Roll” as a tribute to the doomed passengers who overpowered their hijackers over Pennsylvania on Sept. 11.
Under U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, the administration’s war on terrorism has included the detention of hundreds of foreigners and eavesdropping in on conversations between some suspects and their lawyers. Polls show broad public support for such moves.
Also honored at the event were four filmmakers, who were presented with Defenders of Democracy Awards: “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker; “Boys Don’t Cry” director Kimberly Peirce; and “Dogma” director Kevin Smith.
Parker, dressed in a garish stars-and-stripes suit, had his own surprise. He declared that he and Stone were proud Republicans. “It’s true,” he added, apparently earnestly, as the audience wondered if the wacky comic was just joking.
But he also paid tribute to Norman Lear, the “All In The Family” TV producer who founded People for the American Way. He said the prickly and rotund “South Park” hero Eric Cartman was modeled after Archie Bunker.
Among the celebrities in attendance were Young’s old colleagues, David Crosby and Stephen Stills, Joe Henry, and music producer Glen Ballard. Stills’ son, Chris, performed, as did Rufus Wainwright, Jackson Browne and Dave Matthews.
Nancy Pelosi, a progressive San Francisco Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, was kept in Washington by business and was unable to pick up her Spirit of Liberty Award.