By James Hirsen, Special for USDR
Hollywood has typically been a place where the famed have frequently been known to be adherents of alternative belief systems, ones for which they seek tolerance, acceptance, and even religious freedom.
Of late, though, a segment of the celebrity community has been focusing its attention on a recently signed Indiana piece of legislation, Senate Bill 101, which is titled the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Indiana’s governor Mike Pence (picture, right) has signed the bill into law, and the legislation has the specific design of prohibiting government from interference with an individual’s right to freely exercise his or her religion.
Select members of the Hollywood community stand in stark disagreement with the law’s content and presumed forthcoming enforcement, and as such have been vocal regarding their position and quite activist in their ostensibly contradictory stance.
Of course, the First Amendment of the Constitution already states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” However, in light of the interpretations in various cases that have come before some of the modern courts, where the rulings diluted the Free Exercise guarantee, the Indiana legislature has seen fit to be more proactive in its response.
Arkansas, Georgia, and a number of other state legislatures have bills as well that are similar in nature to the state of Indiana, and each has been moving forward in its efforts.
Some famous Hollywood figures, including actor Ashton Kutcher, singer-actress Miley Cyrus (picture, left), screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, Broadway singer Audra McDonald, and actor James Van Der Beek, have used strong language in their descriptions of Gov. Pence’s signing of the bill, citing discrimination as the reason for their participation in the publi c discussion.
–“Indiana are you also going to allow Christian establishments to ban Jews from coming in?” Kutcher tweeted. “Or vice versa? Religious freedom??? #OUTRAGE.”
–“You’re an ***hole @govpenceIN,” Cyrus posted on her Instagram account. “The only place that has more idiots that [sic] Instagram is in politics.”
–“A sad day for all in #INDIANA. Gov. Pence, you did not lead today. You were not courageous,” Black tweeted.
–“@GovpenceIN, some in my band are gay & we have 2 gigs in your state next month,” McDonald tweeted. “Should we call ahead to make sure the hotel accepts us all?” McDonald wrote on her Twitter feed.
–“I remember Jesus saying ‘Don’t judge’, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ I don’t recall him saying it was cool to discriminate,” Van Der Beek tweeted.
Other celebrities have chimed in regarding the Indiana legislation as well.
–Star Trek actor George Takei urged his Facebook followers not to attend the video game convention GenCon, the largest annual convention in the state.
“If it [the bill] goes into effect, Indiana will be marked as a state where certain people are not welcome, and so we will not visit.” Takei wrote.
“We will not spend. And we will not attend events, including GenCon, the world’s largest gaming convention, held in Indianapolis each year. Many fans here are gamers, Governor Pence, and we will demand the convention move out of your state,” Takei added.
–Adrian Swartout, owner and CEO of GenCon, echoed Takei’s wish, writing that the newly signed legislation “will have a direct negative impact on the state’s economy, and will factor into our decision-making on hosting the convention in the state of Indiana in future years.”
The GenCon convention is reportedly under contract to remain in Indiana until 2020.
–The CEO of cloud computing company Salesforce, Marc Benioff, tweeted that the company was “canceling all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination,” to which Kutcher voiced approval, writing, “Bravo Salesforce for taking a stand. Hope more companies follow.”
–The NCAA, which is readying for the Final Four to be held in Indianapolis, jumped into the fray.
“We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees… Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement.
– Apple CEO Tim Cook weighed in, tweeting, “We are deeply disappointed in Indiana’s new law.”
“Around the world, we strive to treat every customer the same — regardless of where they come from, how they worship or who they love,” Cook added.
In defense of his having signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, Gov. Pence told the Indianapolis radio station WIBC that the new law became contentious “because of the way some in the media have reported” on the matter.
According to Gov. Pence “… it essentially says, if a government is going to compel you to act in a way that violates your religious beliefs, there has to be a compelling state interest.”
If Gov. Pence, who has been talked about as a possible 2016 GOP presidential candidate, enters the race, political strategists believe his signing of the bill might help his standing with GOP primary voters in the early primary contests.
“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action,” Gov. Pence indicated.
Responding to critics, he told reporters that the bill was “not about discrimination.”
With regard to the allegation, the governor stated, “If I thought it legalized discrimination in any way I would’ve vetoed it.”