Mozilla Setting Precedent for Failure in Firing CEO Over Support of Marriage

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  • Nate Kellum
    Nate Kellum is Chief Counsel for the Center for Religious Expression.
By Nate Kellum, CP Op-Ed Contributor
April 8, 2014|12:02 pm

Along with another day comes another troubling story of how we are losing our way in America.

Following Mozilla's announcement that Brendan Eich, inventor of Javascript and one of the founders of the company, would be promoted from Chief Technology Officer to head the company, many believed the move might spur a few stories about whether coders make good CEOs. Instead, this bit of news sparked a firestorm of controversy over Eich's views on same-sex marriage.

And this fire spread quickly, leading to Eich being burned. Some within the Mozilla community circulated a public petition demanding that Eich step down as CEO, and he did, last Thursday, after only being on the job for two weeks.

The controversy stems from what would seem to most to be a minor and private – yet constitutionally protected – transaction. In 2008, Eich made a donation of $1,000 in support of California's Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that amended the state's constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Eich was far from alone in supporting this cause. A majority of Californians, over 7 million people, voted for traditional marriage. But as Eich learned the hard way, Silicon Valley has no tolerance for any individual who fails to strictly adhere to the socially liberal agenda.

The Mozilla Corporation is a wholly owned subsidiary of an independent non-profit organization called the Mozilla Foundation. Mozilla creates internet-based applications, like the uber-popular browser Firefox. They describe themselves in this way: "the Mozilla project is a global community of people who believe that openness, innovation, and opportunity are key to the continued health of the Internet. We have worked together since 1998 to ensure that the Internet is developed in a way that benefits everyone."

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Obviously, not everyone is entitled to the same the degree of openness.

Eich is not politically active. The vicious effort to expose and denigrate his personal views only produced the one-time donation. As a founder and a member of the leadership team, Eich never opposed the company's policies which provided health insurance and other benefits to same-sex partners of Mozilla's employees. Responding to the attacks, Eich repeatedly assured that he did not intend to use the CEO position as a platform to promote his beliefs.

But the staunch opposition against Eich had nothing to do with any conceivable harm he could bring as CEO. It was all about intimidation. The idea was to punish Eich harshly and publically so that no one in his shoes would ever dare to support traditional marriage again.

While private businesses have and should retain the right to do business as they see fit, whenever (highly) competent professionals are denied economic opportunities due to their beliefs, we should all be concerned. Freedom of conscience is a basic, fundamental principle of any democratic society. We cannot prosper as a nation without it.

Stories like Eich's strikingly echo McCarthyism. We are at the point where, in situations like these, candidates for jobs are asked, "Do you now or have you ever opposed same-sex marriage?" Be careful of what you say for the wrong answer will cost you.

As this controversy began to heat up, Eich opined: "If Mozilla cannot continue to operate according to its principles of inclusiveness, where you can work on the mission no matter what your background or other beliefs, I think we'll probably fail."

Eich is right and his words could be extended to more general statements about our nation as a whole. If the United States of America cannot continue to be a country dedicated to liberty, where men and women are free to hold beliefs informed by religion and conscience, I think we'll probably fail.

Nate Kellum is chief counsel for the Center for Religious Expression a non-profit organization in Memphis, TN dedicated entirely to the protection of religious speech.
 

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