Enforced Conformity: Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich Forced To Step Down Over Gay Marriage Stance

Mozilla is the company behind Firefox. Until just recently, Brendan Eich was the CEO of the company. Eich has a long and distinguished career, including the invention of JavaScript, and also donated $1,000 to the Proposition 8 movement in California which outlawed gay marriage in that state (the proposition passed, as you might remember, but the courts ultimately struck it down).

For having make that political contribution a half dozen years ago, Eich became the target of gay rights activists. After OKCupid, an online dating company, banned Firefox browsers from accessing their website because of Eich’s past political involvement he was forced to step down as CEO.

As a supporter of gay marriage, and gay rights in general, this is a terrible and decidedly un-American thing.

The proponents of gay rights believe, rightly, that terminating someone because of their sexual preferences is unconscionable. Well, how about terminating someone because of their political views? Is that any better or worse?

Keep in mind that in 2008, Eich’s position on gay marriage was the same position Senator, and then President, Barack Obama held. His contribution supported a ballot measure that 52 percent of Californians – not, mind you, Mississipians or Alabamans – voted for. Nor did Eich bring his politics to the workplace.  Mozilla Executive Chairwoman Mitchell Baker, his longtime business partner, said of the discovery of his 2008 political contribution: “That was shocking to me, because I never saw any kind of behavior or attitude from him that was not in line with Mozilla’s values of inclusiveness.”

But Eich still fell victim to a growing trend in political intolerance in America. Whether it’s wedding photographers who are punished for refusing to work gay weddings, or retail chains that object to a government mandate forcing them to provide insurance coverage for contraception they find immoral,  we seem to have lost sight of the right to dissent. The right to say no.

“This is a repugnantly illiberal sentiment,” wrote Andrew Sullivan, a proponent of gay rights and a gay man himself, of the belief that people like Eich should resign. “It is also unbelievably stupid for the gay rights movement. You want to squander the real gains we have made by argument and engagement by becoming just as intolerant of others’ views as the Christianists? You’ve just found a great way to do this. It’s a bad, self-inflicted blow. And all of us will come to regret it.”

Intolerance for dissent isn’t just present in the arena of gay rights. Anti-bullying and “civility” crusades, while perhaps noble in intent, have morphed into efforts to ban speech and activities that aren’t harassment but merely controversial or provocative (case in point).

Every single day I do engage with people I don’t agree with. I watch and enjoy movies starring actors I have little in common with politically. I listen to music by artists who would probably never vote the same way I do. I read books and articles by people whose political views I don’t get.

Ben and Jerry’s ice cream is delicious, and I eat it all the time (probably too much), but I couldn’t have less in common with that company’s founders, politically speaking.

I do these things because I accept and tolerate the fact that people have different beliefs than I do. There are extreme instances when boycotts may be appropriate – I wouldn’t patronize a person or business engaged in racist actions, for instance – but for the most part I take a live and let live attitude about the world.

Would that more people took this attitude.

America seems to be losing its commitment to the idea of free speech and expression. Our commitment to free speech isn’t tested by non-controversial speech and political activities. The First Amendment doesn’t exist to protect us talking to one another about the weather. It exists to protect speech we find controversial.

While what happened at Mozilla wasn’t a legal breach of the 1st Amendment – private companies can hire and fire as they wish – it’s certainly a breach of its spirit.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from 1-2pm weekdays.

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