Is Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich a free speech martyr?

 
Mozilla's Firefox logo is projected on a screen at a technology conference in Barcelona, Spain, on 24 February, 2013. Mozilla's Firefox browser has been the target of boycotts - first from liberals then from conservatives

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On Thursday Mozilla's chief executive and co-founder Brendan Eich resigned after less than a month on the job.

The internet pioneer had come under heavy criticism for a $1,000 (£600) donation he made in 2008 to the Proposition 8 campaign in California, which sought to amend the state's constitution to prohibit gay marriages. (The measure passed but was struck down by a US court in 2012.)

Howls of protest that Mozilla would promote someone with Mr Eich's views quickly turned to howls that Mr Eich was being unjustly punished for those views.

Outrage, it seems, never goes away, it just changes hands.

The editors of the National Review call the development "pure poison":

The nation's full-time gay-rights professionals simply will not rest until a homogeneous and stultifying monoculture is settled upon the land, and if that means deploying a ridiculous lynch mob to pronounce anathema upon a California technology executive for private views acted on in his private life, then so be it.

Start Quote

If we cannot live and work alongside people with whom we deeply disagree, we are finished as a liberal society”

End Quote Andrew Sullivan The Daily Dish

Six years ago, they say, Mr Eich and US President Barack Obama both opposed gay marriage.

"Barack Obama inexplicably remains, as of this writing, president of the United States of America, but Mr Eich has just been forced out as CEO of Mozilla because of his political views."

(One thing they don't mention, however, is that Mr Obama always opposed Proposition 8.)

The Atlantic Monthly's Conor Friedersdorf offers a hypothetical:

Consider an issue like abortion, which divides the country in a particularly intense way, with opponents earnestly regarding it as the murder of an innocent baby and many abortion-rights supporters earnestly believing that a foetus is not a human life, and that outlawing it is a horrific assault on a woman's bodily autonomy.

The political debate over abortion is likely to continue long past all of our deaths. Would American society be better off if stakeholders in various corporations began to investigate leadership's political activities on abortion and to lobby for the termination of anyone who took what they regard to be the immoral, damaging position?

"The rise of marriage equality is a happy, hopeful story," he says. "This is an ugly, illiberal footnote, appended by the winners."

Andrew Sullivan, who is gay himself, says the gay advocacy groups that pushed for Mr Eich's ouster set a terrible precedent:

Start Quote

Eich wasn't just a casual opponent of marriage equality”

End Quote Mark Joseph Stern Slate

When people's lives and careers are subject to litmus tests, and fired if they do not publicly renounce what may well be their sincere conviction, we have crossed a line. This is McCarthyism applied by civil actors. This is the definition of intolerance.

If a socially conservative private entity fired someone because they discovered he had donated against Prop 8, how would you feel? It's staggering to me that a minority long persecuted for holding unpopular views can now turn around and persecute others for the exact same reason. If we cannot live and work alongside people with whom we deeply disagree, we are finished as a liberal society.

Not so fast, writes Slate's Mark Joseph Stern. Mr Eich's donation to the Proposition 8 campaign was more than just an expression of his political views - it was the endorsement of a hateful campaign.

"Almost every gay person I know remembers the passage of Prop 8 as the most traumatic and degrading anti-gay event in recent American history," he writes. "The tactics used by pro-Prop 8 campaigners were not merely homophobic. They were laser-focused to exploit Californians' deepest and most irrational fears about gay people, indoctrinating an entire state with cruelly anti-gay propaganda."

He says that the campaign worked because people like Mr Eich gave money to fund television ads that insinuated that gay marriages would corrupt the children of California.

He concludes:

Eich wasn't just a casual opponent of marriage equality. He was a major contributor to the most vitriolic anti-gay campaign in American history, one that set the standard of homophobic propaganda that continues to this day. When we talk about Eich's anti-gay stance, we aren't just talking about abstract beliefs. We're talking about concrete actions that harmed thousands of gay families and informed innumerable gay Americans that they were sinful, corrupted predators.

The Awl's Choire Sicha says that Mr Eich wasn't forced out - he quit because he "didn't want to do the actual work" of defending his views:

How can we want to live in a society where people with despicable views won't defend them long enough to make the situation better, and instead, huff off, quit their jobs and apparently delete their Twitter accounts?

One minute Eich was blogging about how he'd show everyone that he could deal with a complicated situation, celebrate diversity and the company, and ensure that everyone could trust in his leadership. Eight days later, his willingness to see that process through had apparently evaporated.

MSNBC reporter Ned Resnikoff sees a different double standard at work in this story.

"I like how at-will employment and arbitrary termination become crises when they happen to a wealthy executive," he tweets.

The ground beneath the opponents of gay marriage has crumbled with surprising quickness, as this controversy clearly shows.

Conservatives have rallied to Mr Eich's defence mostly on free speech principles and not because they agree with his views on the topic (although some certainly do).

But just because the battles to enshrine male-female marriage in state constitutions are largely a thing of the past, the vitriol of the campaigns like Proposition 8 still casts a shadow over today's politics - and it cost Mr Eich his job.

 

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 58.

    57. Nonsense - Obama never approved of the Proposition 8 campaign, Eich did and supported the misinformation that passed for fact on gays and resulted in a 52% vote for Prop 8 - Californians should be embarrassed by what was a witch hunt hate campaign that knew no boundaries in 2008. On reflection, Obama probably saw what happened on Prop 8 and was disgusted at the lengths taken by the perps!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 57.

    Only if Obama resigns the presidency tomorrow for publicly opposing gay marriage in 2008 is forcing Mozilla's chief executive and co-founder Brendan Eich to do the same OK.
    http://youtu.be/oYxn48u1BoI

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 56.

    Progressive companies have to be punished for supporting the regressive, and this is what happened. Eich didn't just state his view and march on, he specifically gave to a fund spreading adds that gay = child molestation.
    He couldn't be bothered to defend his hate campaign, which is what it is since not based in fact. he deserves what he got, being so quiet I think he realizes he deserves it too.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 55.

    What Mozilla did is an absolute disgrace, pure and simple! A flagrant disregard for the 1st Amendment and a blatant attack on the principles of freedom which made this country great! It is truly a sad day to be an American! I'm dropping Firefox as my browser immediately. Hopefully, a few million other faithful Americans will do the same.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 54.

    49. Worth repeating: the savagery exhibited in Prop 8's promotion - children used as foils by rabid GOP/evangelical advocates: http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/04/04/brendan_eich_supported_prop_8_which_was_worse_than_you_remember.html that resulted in 52% shamed into voting for the most onerous legislation ever passed in Ca. We expect similar as the GOP in November use myriad wedge issues!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 53.

    i support marriage equality. but there's no way to protest brendan eich, because he wrote and owns patents that run the entire internet, such as javascript. we're all making him money every day and have for years and will never stop. protesting him really only hurt the mozilla corporation, and if microsoft and google jump on this to rule the internet, i won't be surprised. sad to be a liberal...

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 52.

    Mr Eich is not being prosecuted or fired for his thoughts. His thoughts are his alone. those who oppose his thoughts can say it. All of this is happening, I don't get what the problem is.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 51.

    The guy he made a bad decision and when it became public knowledge did not express a change in views or regret. He is of course entitled to his opinion. But Mozilla is not a church organization that can have discriminatory practices and get away with it. To lead, the CEO can't have even the appearance of being bigoted or discriminatory against any of his employees

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 50.

    It may be that he regularly expressed his views to whatever group he was leading and they took it or left the company. Employees may have been uncomfortable around him because of many views he expressed in a boorish manner - but if he is not your boss you can walk away.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 49.

    What is most interesting is the selectivity of the outrage of the gay community. Now President Obama (and over half of California voters) also came out against gay marriage at the same time Mr. Eich made this donation, but I don't hear a clamor for the President's resignation.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 48.

    Someone peed their pants when they found out about Mr Eich's so-called "anti-gay" stance. He isn't the only one who gets singled out by such fascist tactics. This is a shame, since Firefox is possibly the best browser on the web, with more features than either Safari or Chrome. The truth is that no one likes a winner, particularly when their so-called "political views" are not those of your own.

  • Comment number 47.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 46.

    Now replace the word "gay" with the word "African-American/black". How can anyone hold these views in a liberal society, even claiming free speech.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 45.

    And by the way, when is the BBC going to start writing slant-neutral headlines again? A decidedly rightward tilt has come to the Beeb over the last decade. What gives?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 44.

    No matter how you hold your tongue or squint your eyes...this guy voiced a personal opinion, through donation to a legally placed ballot initiative, who various egregious "scripts" he did not fashion. This is tyranny...welcome to Pakistan.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 43.

    41 - No, I'm afraid Dr Arker, it is you who has missed the point. It was a personal donation (the IRS had his employer listed as Mozilla (for which he was a co-founder), which is where the reference was made).

    It's disingenuous to feign shock and concern for Mozilla's reputation, when activists have had to go to such lengths to publicise the connection in the first place!

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 42.

    There's a big difference between a thought and a £1000 donation to a cause that seeks to continue discrimination towards a minority.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 41.

    I am sorry but you all are missing the point. The issue is that Mr Eich made donation using company name Mozilla as donor. It is not about his personal views nor free speech. It is about fairness and associating oneself with whole company and all its employees while making such "free speech". That was not a fair representation of the Mozilla and its community. That is the core issue.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 40.

    If Eich's actions were directed at an ethnic or religious minority there would be no discussion - he would not have been hired. LGBT people are the only minority in the US still subjected to systemic, government sponsored discrimination. This pernicious governmental alignment with bigotry, in the 21st century, brings great shame upon our nation. Eich helped build that hatred into our government.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 39.

    This is a good example of how far our culture has fallen. Yes, it is an issue of free speech. It is an issue of intolerance and discrimination as well. Look at the Muslim countries. They are far past dialogue and resort to killing each other over differences in belief within the same religion. Are we sinking like them? What is next after no dialogue? Violence? Is the news media to blame?

 

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