[Rushtalk] No First Amendment allowed in Silly-con valley

Carl Spitzer lynux at keepandbeararms.com
Sun Sep 21 18:12:00 MDT 2014


Mozilla CEO resignation raises free-speech issues

 

eich

(Photo: Mozilla via AP)

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — The resignation of Mozilla's CEO amid outrage
that he supported an anti-gay marriage campaign is prompting concerns
about how Silicon Valley's strongly liberal culture might quash the very
openness that is at the region's foundation.

Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich stepped down Thursday as CEO, just days
after his appointment. He left the nonprofit maker of the Firefox
browser after furious attacks, largely on Twitter, over his $1,000
contribution to support of a now-overturned 2008 gay-marriage ban in
California.

"There was no interest in creating an Internet lynch mob," OkCupid
co-founder Sam Yagun, whose dating service site was among those engaged
in online protest, said Friday. "I am opposed to that with every bone in
my body."

But Eich's abrupt departure has stirred the debate over the fairness of
forcing out a highly qualified technology executive over his personal
views and a single campaign contribution six years ago. And it raises
questions about how far corporate leaders are allowed to go in
expressing their political views.

Some are also questioning whether the episode undercuts the well-groomed
image of Silicon Valley as a marketplace of ideas and diversity of
thought, and whether, in this case, the tech world surrendered to
political correctness enforced through a public shaming on social media.

OkCupid never demanded Eich resign, and after discussing the issue with
Mozilla, Yagun ended the call for a Firefox boycott Wednesday afternoon.

In retrospect, however, Yagun said he wished he had framed the Firefox
boycott in a slightly different light.

"I would have loved to have engaged in a debate over what happens when
freedoms collide," Yagun said. "We have freedom of speech, which I would
defend to the end. And we have what I believe is a fundamental liberty
of people to marry and love whoever they want. We took a stand that
matters to us personally and as a business — and I think the world will
be a better place because of it."

Eich's departure didn't end the controversy, it just changed it.

The National Organization for Marriage, which backed California's
same-sex marriage ban, called on consumers to boycott the Firefox
browser.

Organization President Brian Brown said Eich had been the "target of a
vicious character attack by gay activists who have forced him out of the
company he has helped lead for years."

While a handful of workers at top tech firms including Apple, Yahoo and
Google supported the gay-marriage ban, the vast majority gave money to
oppose it.

Mozilla Chairwoman Mitchell Baker touched on the delicate balancing act
in her Thursday blog post announcing Eich's resignation.

"Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech," Baker said.
"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."

Eich' s technical reputation is strong. He created JavaScript and helped
write the code to run Netscape's Navigator web browser before
co-founding Mozilla.

Mozilla, which is based in Mountain View, Calif., declined to make any
further comment Friday. Eich did not respond to requests for comment.

Harmeet Dhillon, vice chairman of the California Republican Party, said
Silicon Valley can be intolerant, and noted 52 percent of California
voters supported the anti-gay marriage measure.

"Many people have told me they're afraid to identify themselves as
conservatives," she said. "We face issues of political correctness all
the time."

Eich's resignation should serve as a chilling reminder to workers at all
levels that their off-duty behavior or personal opinions could still
cost them their jobs if their employers are worried about a backlash
hurting their business, said Lewis Maltby, president of the National
Workrights Institute.

New York and a few other states prohibit employers from firing workers
for political activity, but even those protections are limited.

Some firings of lower-level employees have raised even more troubling
questions about worker rights than Eich's resignation, Maltby said. Some
women have gotten fired for Facebook pictures showing them wearing a
bikini on the beach, and a teacher lost her job for another Facebook
photo that showed her holding a beer.

Most employers are vague about their restrictions on what workers are
allowed to share online.

"There is no clear line," Maltby said. "The line is whatever offends
your boss or the CEO."

Chick-fil-A Inc. President Dan Cathy's opposition to gay marriage has
created controversy for the Atlanta-based company best known for its
fried chicken sandwiches and closing on Sundays. But he has maintained
his position.

While many gay-rights activists and commentators welcomed Eich's
departure, there were dissenters.

Andrew Sullivan, a prominent gay blogger, railed against the pressure
that led to the resignation.

"You want to squander the real gains we have made by argument and
engagement by becoming just as intolerant of others' views as the
Christians?," he asked. "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."

Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group,
took issue with Sullivan.

"I don't believe this is a question of suppressing free speech," he
said. "It's a question of the market regulating itself."

Had Eich stayed in his job, "a tsunami of negativity was going to
eventually overwhelm him and the company," Sainz said. "It's entirely a
measure of our success as a movement that we are now part of that long
list of issues that CEOs have to consider."

Robert P. George, the Princeton University professor and conservative
intellectual, said Eich's case was another example of how religious
conservatives who only support heterosexual marriage are being
victimized for their views. George has dubbed the incident "Brendan
Eich's defenstration."

"Now that the bullies have Eich's head as a trophy on their wall, they
will put the heat on every other corporation and major employer," George
wrote, in a post on First Things, a conservative journal on religion and
public policy. "They will pressure them to refuse employment to those
who decline to conform their views to the new orthodoxy."

Russell Moore, head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist
Convention, said the Mozilla case signaled "very hostile times" for
anyone who believes marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
Eich was "hounded out of office," he said.

Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, who was the first openly gay bishop
elected in the Anglican Communion, said in a phone interview that a
corporate board has a right to take stock of how executives' views shape
a companies' reputation.

But Robinson noted that Eich said his personal beliefs would not affect
his performance as CEO.

Still, Robinson said he disagreed with the idea that Eich served as an
example of bullying by liberals, as some conservatives claim.

"It seems to me when a society makes a determination that something is
wrong, for example racial hatred, then somehow it's not intolerant to
insist upon that understanding," Robinson said.

Justin Lee, founder of the Gay Christian Network, which works to build
bridges with evangelical opponents of same-sex relationships, described
himself as "a passionate supporter of marriage equality." But Lee said
he didn't think Eich should have left or been pressured to leave because
he donated to Proposition 8.

"As much as I disagree with the donation, this is America, and I believe
he has a right to support the political causes he believes in," Lee
said.

___

Associated Press writers David Crary and Rachel Zoll in New York and
Michael Liedtke in San Francisco contributed to this story.

 


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