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.