Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mozilla

Mozilla and the Prophet Isaiah

By now most readers of this site know about the controversy that erupted in the aftermath of the forced resignation of former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich. His offense? A half-dozen years ago he gave $1,000 to support Proposition 8, an effort by California citizens to prevent the redefinition of traditional marriage. (It passed with 52 percent of the vote.) The Mozilla decision has elicited a lot of commentary, much of it good and much of it coming from proponents of gay marriage – including to their credit Andrew Sullivan (here and here), Damon Linker, Conor Friedersdorf and Jonathan Rauch.

At the core of what’s driving this effort by some supporters of gay marriage is the belief that holding traditional views on marriage is akin to being an anti-Semite and a racist. That is, holding views that until 15 years ago were almost universally embraced and that have been held by every major religious faith since their founding is now deemed not only wrong but also so offensive that those who hold them must be punished. Their views are deemed so malicious – so obviously and unequivocally evil — that if held there must be a cost. 

Christian Rudder, president of OkCupid, the online dating service whose campaign to boycott Mozilla if they kept Eich helped lead to his departure, described those who oppose gay marriage as “our enemies, and we wish them nothing but failure.” Mr. Rudder admitted he “wanted to show the many would-be Eichs out there” what could happen to them if they don’t conform to liberal cultural attitudes.

This fanatical cast of mind is quite problematic for a free society, where we have to learn to live with those with whom we have deep differences. It is one thing to proclaim a person’s views to be wrong and to show why; it’s quite another to declare those views illegitimate and those who hold them to be persona non grata. We’ve seen this sort of thing take hold in the academy, the most close-minded institution in American life today. It’s now spreading through the rest of American society. And it’s not good.

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By now most readers of this site know about the controversy that erupted in the aftermath of the forced resignation of former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich. His offense? A half-dozen years ago he gave $1,000 to support Proposition 8, an effort by California citizens to prevent the redefinition of traditional marriage. (It passed with 52 percent of the vote.) The Mozilla decision has elicited a lot of commentary, much of it good and much of it coming from proponents of gay marriage – including to their credit Andrew Sullivan (here and here), Damon Linker, Conor Friedersdorf and Jonathan Rauch.

At the core of what’s driving this effort by some supporters of gay marriage is the belief that holding traditional views on marriage is akin to being an anti-Semite and a racist. That is, holding views that until 15 years ago were almost universally embraced and that have been held by every major religious faith since their founding is now deemed not only wrong but also so offensive that those who hold them must be punished. Their views are deemed so malicious – so obviously and unequivocally evil — that if held there must be a cost. 

Christian Rudder, president of OkCupid, the online dating service whose campaign to boycott Mozilla if they kept Eich helped lead to his departure, described those who oppose gay marriage as “our enemies, and we wish them nothing but failure.” Mr. Rudder admitted he “wanted to show the many would-be Eichs out there” what could happen to them if they don’t conform to liberal cultural attitudes.

This fanatical cast of mind is quite problematic for a free society, where we have to learn to live with those with whom we have deep differences. It is one thing to proclaim a person’s views to be wrong and to show why; it’s quite another to declare those views illegitimate and those who hold them to be persona non grata. We’ve seen this sort of thing take hold in the academy, the most close-minded institution in American life today. It’s now spreading through the rest of American society. And it’s not good.

The successful effort to force Eich out, then, is a significant cultural moment. It revealed an illiberalism and a level of intolerance within some quarters on the left that is chilling but not wholly surprising. And if this current of thought is not checked and challenged, it will create ruptures and divisions that will hurt everyone, those who favor gay rights no less than those who oppose it.

Let me speak from a perspective within my own faith community. Based on conversations and having written and taught classes on the subject of Christianity and homosexuality, my sense is that many evangelical Christians are working through how to approach the issues of their faith and the gay rights movement with a good deal of care and integrity. They are attempting to be faithful to Scripture in a way that is characterized by grace rather than stridency. Even as they continue to oppose same-sex marriage, they are asking whether their own attitudes have been distorted by their own cultural and political assumptions and that the focus on homosexuality is, as I’ve put it elsewhere, wildly disproportionate to what one finds in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Particularly among younger evangelicals, there’s a palpable discomfort with the approach taken by prominent figures over the last few decades – people like (but not exclusive to) Franklin Graham, James Dobson, Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell. They are not the spokesmen they want to represent them or their faith. In terms of public policy, there’s discussion about shifting focus from opposing gay marriage to protecting religious liberties.  

I’ve had discussions with faithful Christians whom I deeply admire who wonder whether their approach needs to be refined – not completely jettisoned but refined — in light of a fuller and deeper understanding of the Christian faith. A thoughtful friend of mine, a pastor, wrote to me last week, asking, “How do you live in a broken world? How do you adapt in a way that maintains faith in God’s character, in ethical standards, and yet maintains an attitude of grace and mercy in a world in which there is a lot more gray than we’d like to admit? you are certainly correct when you suggest that in focusing on this issue [homosexuality], we ignore matters (like greed; like caring for the poor, etc.) that appear to be much more important to Jesus.  And these we blithely sweep under the rug because they are too uncomfortable, and we’ve learned to live with compromises and filter them out.”

The response of those who don’t share this view is that they’re standing for truth in an increasingly depraved time. The danger comes from those who are diluting Scripture to accommodate the world. And gray is just another word for capitulation. This isn’t an easy thing to sort through, then, as anyone who has honestly faced these issues can tell you.

What’s not reasonable or realistic to assume is that millions and millions of Christians will simply toss aside what they view as the clear teachings of the Bible because those who have contempt for their views and faith tell them to do so. And what won’t work is for the gay rights movement to try to intimidate into silence those with whom they disagree. To break their will. And to force religious organizations – including parachurch institutions and eventually churches – to embrace views they believe are at odds with the teachings in Scripture. A faith whose central symbol is the cross is not going to collapse or surrender in the face of pressure by progressives and secularists. (Historically the church has often thrived under persecution.)

This all could get pretty nasty pretty quickly, and intensifying the culture wars isn’t in anyone’s interest. Civility is, as Stephen Carter has written, a precondition of democratic dialogue. There ought to be rules of etiquette, even (and perhaps especially) in public and political discourse. Asking for civility is quite different from insisting on agreement, and absence of agreement is a case for further (and better) debate, not putting an end to it.

When the dust finally settles, we still have to live together and occupy the same nation, the same airwaves, the same soccer fields and schools and workspaces. Surely treating others with a certain degree of dignity and respect shouldn’t be too much to ask of those who oppose gay marriage and those who support it. 

“Come now and let us reason together,” the prophet Isaiah said. That counsel beats a lot of alternatives, including targeting and destroying those who don’t conform to the beliefs of our new cultural commissars.  

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When Does a Once Widely Held Opinion on a Public Issue Become Unacceptable?

The uproar over the forced resignation of Brendan Eich at Mozilla last week (see Jonathan’s excellent post from yesterday) is certainly called for. After all, Eich’s transgression was to make a donation in support of a state constitutional proposition that ended up passing with 53 percent of the vote. In other words, he agreed with the majority of California voters and donated a modest sum to the cause. But a mere six years later, he has been pronounced a moral leper for having held such an outrageous and unacceptable view. It’s no more than the same view that was held by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008.

I can think of no other major change in American society that has moved as swiftly as gay marriage. In 1960 it was, almost literally, unthinkable. The Stonewall Inn riot in New York in 1969 put gay rights on the political map, but gay marriage was not among the rights being demanded. By 1990 gay marriage was thinkable, but nowhere legal. Then in 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalized gay marriage in that state. In 2007, the Stonewall Inn was designated a National Historic Landmark. Today, gay marriage is legal in sixteen states and spreading rapidly to others. Because approval of gay marriage is strongly inversely correlated with age, it is as clear as anything in the future can be that gay marriage will be countrywide in the not distant future.

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The uproar over the forced resignation of Brendan Eich at Mozilla last week (see Jonathan’s excellent post from yesterday) is certainly called for. After all, Eich’s transgression was to make a donation in support of a state constitutional proposition that ended up passing with 53 percent of the vote. In other words, he agreed with the majority of California voters and donated a modest sum to the cause. But a mere six years later, he has been pronounced a moral leper for having held such an outrageous and unacceptable view. It’s no more than the same view that was held by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008.

I can think of no other major change in American society that has moved as swiftly as gay marriage. In 1960 it was, almost literally, unthinkable. The Stonewall Inn riot in New York in 1969 put gay rights on the political map, but gay marriage was not among the rights being demanded. By 1990 gay marriage was thinkable, but nowhere legal. Then in 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalized gay marriage in that state. In 2007, the Stonewall Inn was designated a National Historic Landmark. Today, gay marriage is legal in sixteen states and spreading rapidly to others. Because approval of gay marriage is strongly inversely correlated with age, it is as clear as anything in the future can be that gay marriage will be countrywide in the not distant future.

I imagine that by 2030, gay marriage will be about as controversial as women’s suffrage is today. But women’s suffrage took 100 years to go from a glimmer in the eyes of its first advocates to a constitutionally mandated right. Slavery took nearly 200 years from the first objections to it among 17th century Quakers to its final abolition in this country. One can see the slow evolution of thought on the morality of slavery in the life of Benjamin Franklin. In the 1730s Franklin owned a couple of slaves who worked in his printing house. In the 1750s he wrote a famous essay on the economic inefficiency of slavery. By 1785 he was president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. Still it took another 80 years, and a war that cost 600,000 lives, before slavery was finally gone.

Both women’s suffrage and slavery were highly controversial issues in their day and honest men and women could be found on both sides. (Queen Victoria, for instance, was adamantly against votes for women.) Today, of course, the arguments of the losing sides of these issues seem silly and, often, downright evil.

But we are more than 90 years since the argument over women’s suffrage ended and nearly 150 since slavery was abolished. The issues are both dead and gone. It seems to me that only two years after Barack Obama himself “evolved” on the issue of gay marriage (please note: Democrats evolve on issues, Republicans flip flop) is much too soon for opponents of the idea to be cast into outer darkness.

But, then, liberals—addicted to their sense of moral superiority—are notoriously intolerant of dissenting views.

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Mozilla Has Rights. Just Like Hobby Lobby.

The forced resignation of Mozilla CEO Brandon Eich over his support for an anti-gay marriage referendum continued to provoke bitter debate over the weekend. After an initial burst of revulsion even from liberal pundits like Andrew Sullivan over the purge of a businessman from a company over his political beliefs by pro-gay thought police, many on the left have recovered their bearings and are reminding themselves that freedom of speech for me but not for thee has always been their guiding principle. Though some are a bit shame-faced to do so, some liberals have decided that punishing individuals for their personal politics is OK because those who hold opinions contrary to their own are not only wrong but so hateful that their mere presence undermines the efforts of those associated with them.

That this is rank hypocrisy is so obvious that it barely needs to be said. If, say, a liberal business executive were to be ousted from a similar position at a Fortune 500 company because a lot of the shareholders or executives at the business didn’t like the fact that he or she was a supporter of gay marriage or had donated to prominent liberal candidates for office, you can bet your stock portfolio and your mortgage payment that the mainstream media and every left-wing pundit in creation would be anointing such a person for sainthood rather than twisting themselves into pretzels in order to justify Eich’s defenestration, as so many have already done.

But in doing so, some on the left have, albeit unwittingly, stumbled into some truths about First Amendment rights that undermine their positions on an important case under consideration at the U.S. Supreme Court.

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The forced resignation of Mozilla CEO Brandon Eich over his support for an anti-gay marriage referendum continued to provoke bitter debate over the weekend. After an initial burst of revulsion even from liberal pundits like Andrew Sullivan over the purge of a businessman from a company over his political beliefs by pro-gay thought police, many on the left have recovered their bearings and are reminding themselves that freedom of speech for me but not for thee has always been their guiding principle. Though some are a bit shame-faced to do so, some liberals have decided that punishing individuals for their personal politics is OK because those who hold opinions contrary to their own are not only wrong but so hateful that their mere presence undermines the efforts of those associated with them.

That this is rank hypocrisy is so obvious that it barely needs to be said. If, say, a liberal business executive were to be ousted from a similar position at a Fortune 500 company because a lot of the shareholders or executives at the business didn’t like the fact that he or she was a supporter of gay marriage or had donated to prominent liberal candidates for office, you can bet your stock portfolio and your mortgage payment that the mainstream media and every left-wing pundit in creation would be anointing such a person for sainthood rather than twisting themselves into pretzels in order to justify Eich’s defenestration, as so many have already done.

But in doing so, some on the left have, albeit unwittingly, stumbled into some truths about First Amendment rights that undermine their positions on an important case under consideration at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Some, like the Guardian’s Mary Hamilton, rightly point out that the First Amendment doesn’t entitle Eich to a job at Mozilla. That is true, and I don’t believe any serious conservative critic of the Mozilla lynch mob has said any different. Mozilla and any other company have a perfect right to hire or fire anyone they like. Anti-discrimination laws don’t require liberals to hire conservatives or vice versa even though injecting political litmus tests into job searches are not conducive to hiring the best people. But when New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote that Eich had to be ousted from his position because Mozilla isn’t an ordinary company, that should have unsettled some on the left who have been mocking the idea that corporations have First Amendment rights. If Mozilla should be able to fire Eich because of his politics, how can liberals also argue with a straight face that Hobby Lobby should have to pay for abortion drugs?

The upshot of Manjoo’s piece was to say that rather than a soulless instrument of the technology business, Mozilla is a unique sort of company with a raison d’être that rises above mere commerce and must be nurtured by an individual who shares a vision of inclusiveness that excludes defenders of traditional marriage and other non-liberal concepts. By refusing to “recant,” as Farhad put it, he had demonstrated his inability to lead the company. As Michelangelo Signorile, the editor-at-large of the HuffPost’s Gay Voices wrote, “It’s about a company based in Northern California that has many progressive employees, as well as a lot of progressives and young people among the user base of its Firefox browser, realizing its CEO’s worldview is completely out of touch with the company’s — and America’s — values and vision for the future.”

That Mozilla’s employees and board members actually think it is consistent with American values or even “freedom of speech” (in the words of the company’s disingenuous announcement of Eich’s departure) to hound out of their midst someone who, though a supporter of gay rights in other respects, may disagree with them about marriage or support conservative candidates says something awful about such a group. But if that’s how they feel, then it’s their right to do so even as many on the outside of their cozy left-wing bubble enclave jeer at a version of “inclusiveness” that demands ideological conformity.

Ironically, Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern thinks conservatives are the hypocrites to complain about this because of the Hobby Lobby case. He thinks conservatives are only for protecting the First Amendment rights of companies when they allow people like the religious owners of the Hobby Lobby chain to oppose the Health and Human Services mandate that would force them to pay for abortion drugs for their employees but not for Mozilla to burn Eich at the stake. Wrong.

Conservatives have been consistent about the rights of corporations. It is the left that has always mocked the notion of First Amendment rights applying to corporations, principally in campaign finance law cases. Conservatives have correctly argued that individuals do not give up their right to political speech when they incorporate or engage in commerce. By claiming, as they now do, that the special culture of Mozilla requires it to root out all unbelievers in gay marriage or supporters of conservatives, but deny that Hobby Lobby has the right to protect its particular culture or the beliefs of its owners, liberals are the ones that are engaging in hypocrisy.

It would be nice if liberals were sufficiently self-aware of their inconsistency to cause them to “recant” and grant Hobby Lobby—which has an individual business culture just as special as the one at Mozilla—the same respect it demands for the Torquemadas who rule the roost in the high-tech sector. But I’m not expecting that to happen. The real problem here isn’t hypocrisy but a liberal mindset that views conservatives as not merely wrong, but evil. Eich’s fate shows that the decline of civility in our political culture may have become irreversible. But that makes it all the more important for the courts to defend the Constitution against the left’s crusade against the First Amendment with respect to political speech and faith.

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Brendan Eich, the Culture Wars, and the Ground Shifting Beneath Our Feet

Last month, Ross Douthat used his New York Times column to talk about how opponents of same-sex marriage (like himself) were attempting to negotiate the terms of surrender. “We are not really having an argument about same-sex marriage anymore, and on the evidence of Arizona, we’re not having a negotiation,” he wrote. “Instead, all that’s left is the timing of the final victory — and for the defeated to find out what settlement the victors will impose.”

Yesterday was the clearest indication that, in fact, such surrender is futile: it will not be accepted. The CEO of Mozilla (the company that makes the Firefox browser), Brendan Eich, was forced to resign by an angry mob both within and without the company because six years ago he donated $1,000 to California’s Prop 8 ballot initiative reaffirming traditional marriage. The most disturbing part of this disturbing story was the fact that the company chairwoman explained the decision by saying Eich never displayed any behavior that would be objectionable to anyone. He simply held the wrong political opinion. As Jonathan Last noted, this is pretty much the definition of prosecution for a thoughtcrime.

There are a few important implications of this story, though I’d like to offer the most encouraging one first: the pushback from supporters of gay marriage. Andrew Sullivan, who has been quoted or linked to by just about everyone on this story, was thoroughly disgusted by “the hounding of a heretic.” Slate’s William Saletan confronted the left with what the logical end of this purge would look like. He seems to think they’d be disgusted by it, which is probably wishful thinking. Sullivan notes that such behavior is bad for the gay-rights movement. It’s reminiscent of the scene in Caleb Crain’s novel of post-Cold War Prague in which the American protagonist is introduced to an East German who was anti-Communist until the Berlin Wall fell, and then, implausibly, switched sides:

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Last month, Ross Douthat used his New York Times column to talk about how opponents of same-sex marriage (like himself) were attempting to negotiate the terms of surrender. “We are not really having an argument about same-sex marriage anymore, and on the evidence of Arizona, we’re not having a negotiation,” he wrote. “Instead, all that’s left is the timing of the final victory — and for the defeated to find out what settlement the victors will impose.”

Yesterday was the clearest indication that, in fact, such surrender is futile: it will not be accepted. The CEO of Mozilla (the company that makes the Firefox browser), Brendan Eich, was forced to resign by an angry mob both within and without the company because six years ago he donated $1,000 to California’s Prop 8 ballot initiative reaffirming traditional marriage. The most disturbing part of this disturbing story was the fact that the company chairwoman explained the decision by saying Eich never displayed any behavior that would be objectionable to anyone. He simply held the wrong political opinion. As Jonathan Last noted, this is pretty much the definition of prosecution for a thoughtcrime.

There are a few important implications of this story, though I’d like to offer the most encouraging one first: the pushback from supporters of gay marriage. Andrew Sullivan, who has been quoted or linked to by just about everyone on this story, was thoroughly disgusted by “the hounding of a heretic.” Slate’s William Saletan confronted the left with what the logical end of this purge would look like. He seems to think they’d be disgusted by it, which is probably wishful thinking. Sullivan notes that such behavior is bad for the gay-rights movement. It’s reminiscent of the scene in Caleb Crain’s novel of post-Cold War Prague in which the American protagonist is introduced to an East German who was anti-Communist until the Berlin Wall fell, and then, implausibly, switched sides:

“In reality I had no choice. So many horrible people were becoming anti-Communist that day. It was an opportunity for them. They were my–what is the word? In Czech they are called korouhvicky.”

“Weathervanes,” Rafe supplied.

“They were my weathervanes,” Kaspar continued. “If they were willing to betray Communism, there was something in the idea after all.”

What has always been so inexplicable about the marriage-equality movement is that its adherents have some strong arguments–libertarian, cultural, among others–in their favor, yet they don’t deploy them. They deploy the pitchforks and torches instead. Which brings us to the second implication of the Mozilla purge: religious liberty protections must be strengthened and codified wherever and whenever possible.

Religious Americans and others in favor of natural rights should not be complacent when a specific battle on this front is fought that doesn’t involve them, because the ground is continually shifting beneath our feet. Catholics should not be the only ones opposing the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, and opponents of gay marriage should not be the only ones up in arms about the forced baking of goods for wedding ceremonies. Precedents fuel the pitchforks here. Erick Erickson likes to say that “you will be made to care.” He is unquestionably correct about that.

The other implication has to do with the intended effect of such sickening purges: chilling the participation, especially of outnumbered minorities, in the political process. Yesterday I wrote about Charles Koch’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal defending himself from deranged attacks from the left generally and Senate Democrats specifically. No one pities the billionaire, I wrote, and so the left was outraged Koch would dare speak up for himself.

But forget about the Kochs for a moment. Forget, too, about the left’s major donors like Tom Steyer, who plans to spend $100 million in congressional midterm elections in support of Democrats. What about the guy who donated $1,000 to a state ballot initiative six years ago? Should he lose his job somewhere down the line because public opinion has shifted against an old ballot initiative? To the left, the answer is: Absolutely.

This is part of why conservatives have been leery about the Democrats’ proposals to force disclosure of the kind of donors who give to Republicans (while exempting many of their own major donors). The left claims it wants full disclosure of political participation in the name of transparency and electoral integrity. We now know this isn’t remotely true. They want disclosure so they can extend the purge of heretics from private life and thus deter libertarian and conservative political participation. They want a permanent record of everyone’s political opinions to use against them at any time in the future. This is about disenfranchisement and blacklisting and nothing more. That should have been apparent before, but it’s crystal clear now.

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