Mozilla: Champion of Equality…Some Restrictions Apply

Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich–the guy who created JavaScript–resigned yesterday as CEO from the Mozilla Corporation and from the board of the nonprofit foundation that wholly owns the company.

Here are some of the reasons he did not resign:

Incidentally, the various company founders and/or CEOs who did the things described above retained their positions.

Here is the reason Eich did resign: In 2008, he gave $1,000 to a non-profit group.  Yep, that’s it.  Of course, here’s the kicker–the group is ProtectMarriage.com, and they were behind the Prop 8 campaign in California.

Quick background: Prop 8 (a constitutional amendment) defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman.  This amendment to the California Constitution passed in 2008 when more than 7 million California residents voted for it.  Incidentally, this took place just eight years after 61% of California voters passed Prop 22 (a state law), which basically said the same thing.  Prop 22 was struck down by the California Supreme Court in 2008, by a narrow 4-3 decision, which led to Prop 8.

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Eich’s position, you should be–at a minimum–extremely concerned by the internal and external pressure that forced him to resign.  Not because it violated the First Amendment, because it didn’t: the First Amendment constrains government action, not the decisions of a private company.  You should be concerned because it is a glaring example of society’s increasing willingness to embrace a nebulous concept of “tolerance” over established and foundational values like freedom of expression, [true] diversity, and equality.  And, more to the point of this post, because it is a shocking example of hypocrisy.

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Below are portions of the statement from Mozilla on Eich’s resignation, accompanied by my commentary.
(Disclaimer:  The statements and views expressed in this posting are my own and do not reflect those of my employer, are intended for general informational purposes only, and do not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion. Read my full disclaimer here.)

Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech.

While–as mentioned above–Mozilla is not bound by the First Amendment, they affirmatively endorse it here.  With that in mind, perhaps they should have focused on the fact that the protections of the First Amendment exist not to protect popular speech (the kind that Mozilla approves of), but to protect unpopular speech.  Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that “[i]f there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 414 (1989) (emphasis added).

Equality is necessary for meaningful speech.

I wish they defined what they meant by equality because, as best I can tell, the only “equality” necessary for free speech is the equal opportunity for people with diverging viewpoints to express those viewpoints.

And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.

Perhaps the reason it is hard is because Mozilla appears to be limiting the purpose of free speech to the fight for its murky definition of equality, rather than the freedom to express ideas, even if those ideas are unpopular.

Our organizational culture reflects diversity and inclusiveness. We welcome contributions from everyone regardless of age, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender-identity, language, race, sexual orientation, geographical location and religious views. Mozilla supports equality for all.

Unless of course, your “contribution” is made to a non-profit defending a tradition of marriage that, as recently as 2008 (when Eich made his donation), was supported by the likes of President Obama, Senator Clinton…oh, and about 7 million California residents (all of whom are probably now ineligible for Mozilla’s top post).  If you fall into that category, even if your beliefs were motivated by your culture, geographical location, or religious views, your contributions are unwelcome.

We have employees with a wide diversity of views.

Ha! Not anymore.

If this post encouraged you, please share it to Facebook or Twitter
If this post encouraged you, please share it to Facebook and Twitter.

 

Our culture of openness extends to encouraging staff and community to share their beliefs and opinions in public.

I have to assume that staff are now going to think twice about what beliefs and opinions they share in public.

While painful, the events of the last week show exactly why we need the web. So all of us can engage freely in the tough conversations we need to make the world better.

Again, it seems that “engag[ing] freely” in “tough conversations” is only advisable if one is going to share thoughts and beliefs that are pre-approved by this so-called tolerant company.  The irony here is that Eich wasn’t running around proclaiming his support for Prop 8.  He was outed.

Thank you for sticking with us.

Sorry Mozilla, but after your shameful actions, that’s the last thing I’m going to do.

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59 thoughts on “Mozilla: Champion of Equality…Some Restrictions Apply”

  1. Here’s a BIG thing that disturbs me about this. First, about half the country agrees with him, yet he is being ousted. Even our beloved DEMOCRAT President was against gay marriage as recently as his first election. For opinions to go from a small minority opinion just a few years ago to a firing offense now is troubling to me because one wonders what else might this phenomenon be used for? For our culture to make such a shift so quickly should be frightening to everyone!

  2. Hmm, Eich was undone by a simple combination of democracy, free speech, and business savvy. No point crying about it. Gay marriage and gay rights supporters won. He lost. We’re supposed to be scared of democracy and free speech in action? I don’t think so. There’s a battle of ideas out there and may the best ones win. Gay marriage is winning and those who oppose it are increasingly being seen as losers. That’s life. And by the way, as you point out yourself, Eich resigned. Mozilla didn’t fire him because he supported prop 8. If there hadn’t been a mass movement against him, he’d still be there. So putting the credit/blame on Mozilla is kind of perverse.

  3. No it’s not accurate, James. Let me go through it:

    You suggested of me “your idea of modernity and openness” is that people with unpopular ideas should be cast out from the business world if they dare to express those opinions” and you used that claim as a basis for your further (indirect) claim that I was intolerant.

    I said that was a strawman because nowhere did I claim, in those quotes above or anywhere else, that modernity and openness means that people with unpopular opinions “should” be cast out from the business world. I mean, to make a simple analogy, if I were to say a sign of a free society is that we “should” say curse words in public, it would sound a bit ridiculous. If I were to say on the other hand that a sign of a free society is that we “can” do that, i.e. it’s not illegal, it would make more sense.

    Similarly, if I had claimed what you said I did, it would be the equivalent to saying that I thought everybody with an unpopular opinions should be banned from business in the name of modernity and openness. And that’s a ridiculous idea. I mean, for a start, I might actually agree with some of those opinions.

    Anyway, let’s move to what I do claim and what I’d like you to address, which is that modernity and openness means that people should have a right to protest in the way that happened in this situation and if they win, good for them. That’s democracy/capitalism in action.

    So, if you disagree, tell me what you’d do about it. Do you think society would be made more open and more free by putting legal mechanisms in place to stop the kind of protests that led to Eich’s resignation? Or are you simply expressing our moral disapproval of the whole thing?

    1. Paul, I am very impressed by the manner in which you managed to completely avoid directly addressing your previous arguments, which I quoted in my last comment. 🙂

      In all seriousness, I appreciate your effort to clarify your position. With that said, what would be helpful is if you could explain what you meant by your previous statements that I quoted, if you did not mean to communicate that it was appropriate for Eich to be forced out of the marketplace in response to his private donation.

      Also, in regards to your most recent comment that “if I had claimed what you said I did, it would be the equivalent to saying that I thought everybody with an unpopular opinions should be banned from business in the name of modernity and openness. And that’s a ridiculous idea. I mean, for a start, I might actually agree with some of those opinions.” By that do you mean that only SOME people with unpopular opinions should be banned? And if so, who decides which ones? Perhaps only whose opinions are not ones that you also hold? 🙂

      In answer to your question, I am simply expressing my disbelief at the hypocrisy of the “tolerant.”

      1. James, I was going to repost the quotes actually but I thought it unnecessary.

        I suppose my position might seem less than straightforward though so I’ll clarify again and go through one of the quotes below. First of all, the important thing for me is that I’m making a distinction between the ideas expressed in words like “should” “is appropriate”, “is acceptable” and “is allowed” etc. that you seem to be lumping together at times.

        I think you’ll agree, for example, there is an obvious difference between:

        People should join the Democratic party.
        People should have the right to join the Democratic party.

        And that difference holds whether I like the Democratic party or not.

        So when I said: ““The supporters of gay marriage used their right to free speech to win this battle. He still had his right. He lost because he had the worse idea.””

        I meant just that, that they had the “right” to do what they did in that case. I did not say that Eich “should” have been forced out, but even if I had said that, it still wouldn’t follow that I thought every CEO with an unpopular opinion or one I disagreed with should be dethroned. There are plenty of business people whose opinions I think are wrong/stupid/dangerous (Donald Trump comes to mind) but of whom I wouldn’t support a boycott. At the same time, I would have no problem with any group boycotting them because I’d be happy to let the ideas marketplace take care of itself, and I’d fully expect the worse idea to lose.

        To be clear about my personal point of view concerning Eich, I didn’t know about the boycott at the time, and I wouldn’t have joined it myself (despite being a supporter of gay marriage) but I fully support the boycotters right to do so and I see nothing inappropriate in them taking on this battle. Again seeing nothing inappropriate in some specific example of something doesn’t necessarily mean I think someone “should” do that, particularly not on every occasion.

        This extends to those with opinions I don’t hold. If some conservative group wants to boycott Stephen King’s books, for example, say because he has called for higher taxes on the rich, I see nothing inappropriate about that either. I think they’d lose because their idea sucks but they have every right to take on that battle.

        So, I’m saying my position is consistent even though I understand it may sound unfamiliar. And I have no problem with you charging people who claim to be tolerant and then boycott someone for their beliefs as hypocritical.

        But I don’t really see this whole tolerant/intolerant divide as being important. What’s important to me is the war of ideas out there, left vs right, liberal vs. conservative and so on. I’m not interested in whether people “tolerate” minority groups, I’m interested in whether those groups get the rights I think they deserve. That’s my focus. If people want to go on being intolerant as long as it’s within the law, that’s their business. Free speech and free movement in the ideas marketplace for all as far as I’m concerned.

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