Brendan Eich nailed for his generic, private, anti-gay beliefs?

Yes, yes, yes, I know. Just try to imagine the mainstream press coverage if Brendan Eich had been a Chick-fil-A manager in, oh, some middle-American enclave like Mission, Kan., who was forced to resign because of his private financial support for gay rights.

No, I am not going there. To put it bluntly, I am waiting for the religion shoe to drop in the whole story of the Mozilla chief executive who was forced to step down because he once donated $1,000 to California’s Proposition 8, a campaign dedicated to defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

As one veteran GetReligion reader asked in a private email: “I’m not missing the part where they say he’s Catholic, Mormon, evangelical, whatever, am I? The faster gay marriage becomes accepted, the harder I think it is for someone to be against gay marriage without some driving religious belief.”

Unless I have missed something in the past hour or two, that is not a question that many journalists have been asking. Right now, the framing for this story is that his actions were anti-gay, not pro-something, something doctrinally and legally different.

Over at the normally gay-news-driven New York Times, this story is not receiving major attention. A “Bits” feature in the business pages does provide an interesting summary of the raging debates surrounding this case, including the fact that some liberals — including some in the gay community — are quite upset with the illiberal campaign by many “liberals” to punish Mozilla, while making Eich an untouchable in the highly influential tech world. Here is a key chunk of that report:

Mr. Eich’s departure from the small but influential Mountain View, Calif., company highlights the growing potency of gay-rights advocates in an area that, just a decade ago, seemed all but walled off to their influence: the boardrooms of major corporations. But it is likely to intensify a debate about the role of personal beliefs in the business world and raise questions about the tolerance for conservative views inside a technology industry long dominated by progressive and libertarian voices.

Andrew Sullivan, a prominent gay writer and an early, influential proponent of making same-sex marriage legal, expressed outrage over Mr. Eich’s departure on his popular blog, saying the Mozilla chief had been “scalped by some gay activists.”

“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,” Mr. Sullivan wrote.

A number of gay rights advocates pointed out that their organizations did not seek Mr. Eich’s resignation. Evan Wolfson, a leading gay marriage advocate, said that this was a case of “a company deciding who best represents them and their values. There is no monolithic gay rights movement that called for this.”

The article also noted that Eich has consistently stressed, and so far no one has contradicted this, that he was committed to inclusiveness in the Mozilla workplace and had never discriminated. However, he has also asked not to be judged for his “private beliefs.” In a way, that is also interesting in that fierce defenders of the First Amendment have long argued for free expression, even in public (with others, yes, having the right to freely protest in return).

The Times article does note, concerning the clashes between old-school liberals and the new illiberal liberals:

The conflicting values between free speech and gay rights were a riddle that was hard for many Mozilla officials to solve, and there is no indication that Mr. Eich behaved in a biased manner at work.

In one blog post, Geoffrey MacDougall, the head of development for Mozilla, described the confusion within the organization. “The free speech argument is that we have no right to force anyone to think anything,” he wrote. “We have no right to prevent people from pursuing their lives based on their beliefs.”

The report published by The Wall Street Journal was quite similar to that at The Times.

So beliefs truly mattered in this case. The question again, for journalists: What are the private beliefs that are under fire, here? In effect, is he being judged for ancient moral and doctrinal beliefs that are held by orthodox believers in Islam, Christianity, Judaism, etc.?

Over on the other side of the Atlantic, The Telegraph dug a bit deeper and published a few additional facts that have also appeared — with interpretation — in the comments pages on many of the gay-press coverage of Eich’s fall. Here is the crucial passage:

The father of five responded to allegations of homophobia levelled at him over the donation in a blog post refusing to discuss his involvement with the campaign, which was initially passed but later overturned by the US Supreme Court. …

In an interview this week with the Guardian Eich refused to be drawn on his stance on gay rights. “I don’t want to talk about my personal beliefs because I kept them out of Mozilla all these 15 years we’ve been going,” he said. “I don’t believe they’re relevant.” He said his donation to the campaign was “personal” and said Mozilla’s code of conduct formalised the principle of “keeping anything that’s not central to our mission out of our office”.

Prior to his short spell as CEO, the Pittsburgh-born programmer studied maths and computer science at Santa Clara University before working on network and operating system code at Silicon Graphics.

Yes, Santa Clara is a campus in Silicon Valley. It is a Jesuit university, too. Both pieces of that equation many turn out to be relevant in this ongoing story.

Stay tuned.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • PalaceGuard

    Not a religion question, but a journalistic one: just *how* do we know that he donated the money in the first place?

    • Kodos

      A very good question to ask. Especially by journalists who (typically and justifiably) want to bring to light any illegal actions by our government.

      • tmatt

        Yes, thank you for that follow-up. There had been references to public records in some of the mainstream stories.

    • Martha O’Keeffe

      Courtesy of William Saletan in “Slate”, the Los Angeles Times has a spreadsheet download with the names of the donors (pro and con) to the Prop 8 campaign:

      id amount position name employer city state zipcode
      8930 1000 Support Brendan Eich Mozilla Santa Clara CA 95051
      7173 150 Oppose Benjamin Turner Mozilla Corporation San Francisco CA 94103
      48393 1000 Oppose Jonathan Dicarlo Mozilla Corporation Mountain View CA 94043
      68572 200 Oppose Michael D. Melez Mozilla Corporation Santa Cruz CA 95062

      Interestingly enough, I note one “support” donation from someone employed by IAC Search and Media, which may (or may not) be the same as the parent company which owns OKCupid. Beam of anti-gay bigots employed in your headquarters compared to the splinter in other companies eyes, anyone?

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    There are two questions I would love to see answered, and I’ve seen nothing so far on what I’ve read (most of it has been along the lines of “Mozilla finally kicks out anti-gay bigot, about time!”)

    (a) There have been references to internal opposition from some Mozilla staffers, and that three members of the board of directors resigned, due to his appointment as C.E.O. Was this down to him being a big, bad, bigot or for other reasons? Are Mozilla leaping at the chance to get rid of the guy provided by this debate because they want to get shut of him for (whatever reason), not because he’s going around forcing their gay employees to kiss his feet?

    (b) Why did OKCupid get involved? That appears to be the catalyst that kicked this whole thing off, their log-in page with “We would rather you didn’t use Firefox because of Eich” and the recommendations for Chrome instead (they also took the chance to have a pop at Microsoft with “Internet Exploder”, something I’ve only seen mentioned once).

    Did someone in OKCupid have a beef with Eich and/or Mozilla? Was this a way of presenting themselves on favourable terms for a partnership with Google (‘we’re pushing Chrome, see, we love you guys!’)? It’s certainly given OKCupid a lot of free publicity and pushed up web traffic for them, which can only help their Alexa rankings.

    Call me a nasty, suspicious-minded cynic, but I can’t help feeling there’s more going on here than pure commitment to equality and social justice. Digging up a campaign contribution from six or so years ago – stale news, I would have thought?

    • FW Ken

      Stale depends on what you are obsessed about, whether it’s same-sex marriage or getting even with someone who is now your CEO.

  • John Pack Lambert

    My guess is that Eich is not a Mormon, since the Deseret News probably would have said he was. That said, having read works by Sherif Girgis et. al, there is a non-religious argument for man/woman marriage, so Eich’s religion may not matter.
    On the other hand, admitting he acted based on his religion and then was fired for it would open this up as a potential violation of laws against religion based discrimination.

    • tmatt

      He wasn’t fired. He was pressured to resign.

    • MLM

      Sorry, religious beliefs are trumped by the US Constitution. You can’t have slaves or refuse to serve African Americans just because your Bible says (or you interpret it to say) that whites are better than blacks.

      • FW Ken

        Does that have anything to do with journalism, or Eich?

  • Jettboy

    Remember, if you want to keep your job and have a successful business, never knowingly hire or work for a Democrat or a liberal.

  • LaurelhurstLiberal

    Brendan Eich himself never clarified whether his opposition to SSM was based in religion or was just his own feeling, as far as I can tell from the news coverage he’s refused to say anything about his beliefs except that they are private.

    EDIT: That said, there is an obvious religious angle in here, as well as an obvious parallel to the recent World Vision controversy: Mozilla is a nonprofit that depends to a large extent on the voluntary contributions and support of people on the Internet. If the controversy surrounding the new CEO had damaged that base of support, Mozilla would have suffered serious harm, just as World Vision did when it angered its base by recognizing the SSM of its employees.

  • Kullervo

    Yeah but Georgetown is a Jesuit university too, and plenty of non-Catholics go there.

  • MLM

    “…generic, private, anti-gay beliefs?”

    Donations to anti-gay political organizations are NOT private. Nor should they be. If you think gays and lesbians don’t deserve equal rights, that’s your business. But when you act on that belief and take political action to hurt same-sex couples and their children, you’ve done more than just follow religious doctrine. You’re damaging other American families by promoting homophobic public policy.

    Prop 8′s passage reverberated across our nation, bolstering bullies in schools and preventing justice for gay families. How many people lost a partner to death before Prop 8 was struck down and were ineligible for inheritance or Social Security benefits? How many couldn’t see a sick partner in a hospital. How many lost their children because they weren’t biologically related, or were denied the opportunity to adopt? The list of damages is huge, and people like Eich are personally responsible for the cruelty.

    Prop 8 wasn’t about supporting straight marriage, it was about denying gays and lesbians equality. Eich donating to that cause is not just a minor difference of opinion. Your religious beliefs may cause you to dislike or disagree with same-sex couples, but forcing your beliefs onto others with hurtful, oppressive laws is cruel, even when they are dishonestly characterized as “support for traditional marriage.” (Today’s marriage is anything but traditional, of course, given that divorce wasn’t allowed and women were traditionally considered property of men.)

    Hurting other Americans by blocking equality is a huge affront and unforgivable action by a man who has not attempted to make amends or even bothered to apologize. Eich made his donation six years ago, by my kids STILL don’t have equal rights to children of heterosexual parents.


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