With her tragic story, mild smile, and crusade to end crimes against children, Elizabeth Smart has been as controversial as vegetables.
Kidnapped from her bedroom nearly a decade ago, and held hostage and abused for 9 months, Smart, now 24, became a symbol of the worst fears of women (rape) and parents (losing a child). Not only did she survive, but she has spun cruel misfortune into altruism, using her foundation, speaking engagements, and reports for ABC news to advocate for children. Her marriage this year in Hawaii seemed cathartic to anyone who remembered her story from the lurid headlines.
But her days of being wholly inoffensive may be numbered. Smart, a devout Mormon, is joining Governor Chris Christie as a featured speaker at the New Jersey Right to Life’s annual banquet next week—which seems to prominently place her on one side of the nation’s ongoing culture war.
“Because I speak to a certain group, it doesn’t mean I endorse or support their agenda or positions, nor am I amenable to tailoring my remarks as such,” said Smart in a statement through her spokesman, Chris Thomas, noting that she has spoken to numerous groups “representing various interests and different religions.”
For NJRTL, she’ll address top donors and supporters at a fundraiser at the East Brunswick Hilton. A dinner ticket costs $120 for NJRTL members, and $150 for nonmembers, and a VIP reception complete with a photo line for the celebrity speakers costs $300.
“Elizabeth views this event as a forum for her to speak about child advocacy,” said Thomas.
The group declined to speak to The Daily Beast about the event or featured-speaker Smart. The nonprofit and political action committee aims to “promote, uphold and support reverence and respect for all innocent human life from conception to natural death . . . whether born or pre-born,” according to its website.
Asked about her scheduled appearance at the event, ABC spokeswoman Julie Townsend called Smart, who has been under contract with ABC News since last June “an occasional contributor on specific stories as a child advocate when there is a major kidnapping case.” The network said contributors are held to different journalistic standards than reporters, and that it has no opinion about Smart’s decision to work with the politically charged NJRTL.
The office of Governor Christie—a pro-life Republican and supporter of NJRTL who galvanized a group of anti-abortion activists by declaring the procedure “against the Declaration of Independence” according to a NJRTL press release—did not respond to requests for comment about his appearance with Smart.
Premiere Speakers Bureau, who negotiates Smart’s appearances, did not return calls inquiring about her fee for the event. Last year’s NJRTL banquet featured Ann Coulter, and 2010’s dinner was headlined by Glenn Beck.