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Why some liberals are uneasy about Brendan Eich's resignation from Mozilla

Published: Sunday, April 6 2014 11:19 p.m. MDT

A celebration sign is posted at Mozilla headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., Friday, July 31, 2009.  (Paul Sakuma, Associated Press) A celebration sign is posted at Mozilla headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., Friday, July 31, 2009. (Paul Sakuma, Associated Press)

After the official announcement that recently appointed Mozilla Firefox CEO Brendan Eich had resigned due to mounting criticisms of contributions he made in support of California’s Proposition 8 in 2008, Mozilla’s Mitchell Baker wrote on the company’s blog that the tech company “didn’t act like you’d expect Mozilla to act. We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry. We must do better.”

Baker’s post was a response and apology to those who accused the company of endorsing anti-LGBT views by appointing Eich, and some (including the most public case of OKCupid) were calling for Internet users to stop using the Firefox browser altogether.

“Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech,” Baker continued. “Equality is necessary for meaningful speech. And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.”

Citing an “organizational culture” that “reflects diversity and inclusiveness,” Baker publicly lamented that the company's actions were upseting to some. While LGBT activists, such as those at the blog Equality on Trial, Eich’s resignation is seen as a sign that the company is “willing to listen to the LGBT community’s concerns.”

While there was an anticipated outcry from conservative commentators, such as The Heritage Foundation’s Ryan T. Anderson, who called the boycotts and subsequent resignation a sign of “grotesque incivility” that is “toxic for any democratic community,” gay marriage supporters have also expressed concerns about the political ramifications of a capable CEO being pressured into resignation for expressing his political views.

“No one had any reason to worry that Eich, a longtime executive at the company, would do anything that would negatively affect gay Mozilla employees,” The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf wrote on Friday. “If that attitude (that CEOs should be judged not only by their professional achievements, but by their politics) spreads, it will damage our society.”

Friedersdorf, for one, fears that such a precedent could allow heated political issues — such as abortion, which he most prominently emphasizes — to be used in corporate “litmus tests” that would have a devastating effect on political participation.

“Whatever you think of gay marriage,” he wrote, “the general practice of punishing people in business for bygone political donations is most likely to entrench powerful interests and weaken the ability of the powerless to challenge the status quo.”

Friedersdorf’s fears are also shared by the outspoken gay marriage advocate Andrew Sullivan, who published a widely circulated blog post about the issue, where he lamented that “The guy who had the gall to express his First Amendment rights and favor Prop. 8 in California by donating $1,000 has just been scalped by some gay activists.”

Sullivan, who is himself gay, wrote, “If this is the gay rights movement today — hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else — then count me out.”

After receiving a number of responses to criticism of the handling of Eich’s resignation, Sullivan clarified his viewpoint by writing that he indeed believes that Mozilla has every right to fire a CEO for views they don’t agree with. “What I’m concerned with is the substantive reason for purging him,” he wrote.

Sullivan believes that “this is McCarthyism applied by civil actors,” civil actors who are clouded by the viewpoints involved instead of the possible ramifications of their actions.

Sullivan asked, “If a socially conservative private entity fired someone because they discovered he had donated against Prop. 8, how would you feel?”

While Baker and those at Mozilla who encouraged Eich’s resignation clearly hoped to extinguish the situation as much as possible, they have instead brought unwanted attention to what Forbes’ Rakesh Sharma called “the rapidly disappearing line between personal and professional lives.”

“So far ... the case seems like a liberal version of the thought police,” Sharma, a self-proclaimed liberal concluded.

And as The American Conservative pointed out, this isn't simply a case of capable CEO being censured. Eich is largely credited as the inventor of JavaScript, one of the most influential and widely used web-browser programming languages.

“If they can knock off a guy like Eich, one of the co-founders of the company and one of the most important figures in the tech industry, because of his belief in traditional marriage, who is safe?” The American Conservative’s Rod Dreher wrote on Friday. “They would rather throw one of the founding fathers of the Internet down a well than tolerate him, because of his expressed belief on traditional marriage.”

JJ Feinauer is a web producer for Moneywise and Opinion on DeseretNews.com. Email: jfeinauer@deseretdigital.com, Twitter: jjfeinauer.

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