Brendan Eich and the New American Totalitarian State

Imagine going to work one day only to be, in effect, fired -- not because of anything you did or didn’t do at your job, but because of something you did in your personal life.  Something religious.  Or maybe, something political.

Imagine if you were denied a promotion at work because a co-worker found out you had made a personal donation to a conservative candidate.  Imagine if your environmentally-correct boss discovered that, in your free time at home, you supported an organization that exposed the fallacies of man-made global warming and asked you for your resignation.  Imagine if you were the successful CEO of Widget Corp, lauded and respected for your accomplishments, but clients or customers found out you were a tea partier and demanded you be forced out.

That’s exactly what happened to Brendan Eich, a highly-respected tech guru in Silicon Valley and co-founder of Mozilla Corporation, after he was appointed CEO in late March.  In less than a week, he was forced out of this position for no reason other than that he had a made a $1000 contribution to the Prop 8 initiative in 2008.  His own money.  On his own time.  In his private capacity.  Mozilla had nothing to do with it.  Nor did he discuss gay marriage at work. 

In an interview with The Guardian on Wednesday, Eich told the paper “I think I am the best person for the job and I’m doing the job” and that his personal beliefs were not relevant.  He couldn’t be more correct.

But forced out he was after a huge outcry from thousands of employees and Silicon Valley residents,  after  half of the Mozilla Foundation board resigned -- yes, resigned! -- and OKCupid blocked web surfers from accessing their site through the Firefox portal. 

At first, it looked as if he might survive the onslaught, as statements were issued on the Mozilla blog about their support for LGBT issues, marriage equality and respect for diversity.  “[A]s long as you are willing to respect others, and come together for our larger mission, you are welcome. Mozilla’s community is made up of people who have very diverse personal beliefs working on a common cause, which is a free and open internet. That is a very rare and special thing.”

The UK Guardian:

[Mitchell] Baker, chairwoman of the Mozilla Foundation, of which the Mozilla Corporation is a wholly-owned subsidiary, wrote in the 29 March blog post: "I want to speak clearly on behalf of both the Mozilla Corporation and the Mozilla Foundation: Mozilla supports equality for all, explicitly including LGBT equality and marriage equality."

Eich stressed that Baker's statement applied only to Mozilla as a corporation and foundation, rather than to its broader mission.

“There's a difference here between the company, the foundation, as an employer and an entity, versus the project and community at large, which is not under any constraints to agree on LGBT equality or any other thing that is not central to the mission or the Mozilla manifesto.”

Eich said the reason Mozilla as a community did not take a wider stance on issues such as LGBT marriage was the same as his reason for not explaining his donation: to avoid fragmenting its community. Without a large group of people who disagreed on lots of issues, Firefox would never have happened, he said.

“So far we've been able to bring people together of diverse beliefs including on things like marriage equality,” he said. “We couldn't have done this, we couldn't have done Firefox One. I would've been excluded, someone else would've been excluded because of me – I wouldn't have done that personally, they'd have just left. So imagine a world without Firefox: not good.”

Eich also stressed that Firefox worked globally, including in countries like Indonesia with “different opinions”, and LGBT marriage was “not considered universal human rights yet, and maybe they will be, but that's in the future, right now we're in a world where we have to be global to have effect”. 

But, in the end, his personal liberties, reasonableness,  and competence couldn’t survive the pitch forks and threats.  

Eich clearly has more sense in his little pinky than the “aggrieved” have collectively.  But still, this is one of the saddest days in America -- a nation founded on religious liberty, a nation that has fought to protect the civil liberties of its citizens from encroachment by the state or abuse by employers, landlords and other institutions.  It now seems that anyone can be punished for his or her religious, moral or political beliefs by well-funded mobs that can exert economic pressure on one’s employer.   These are the tactics of closed societies behind the Iron Curtain; not the shining city on the hill. 

This isn’t new:  we have seen it take place on a national level with Chick-fil-A.  Many of us have seen people outed at work for their support of Prop 8.  Busloads of angry mobsters have descended on the private property of CEOs.  We have seen Tea Parties shaken down by the IRS. We know there is a Hollywood blacklist for conservatives.  It has been a slow trickle that is fast turning into a full stream. 

This is NOT about Prop 8, gay marriage and religion.  That is just the context in which this latest abuse has come to be.  It is about the freedom -- in your personal life -- to believe as you do, support the candidates and issues you want, and to be left in peace to do so without fear of recrimination at the place where you make your livelihood. 

If competent individuals can be fired at work for their personal stances on issues that they do not bring into the workplace, then we are no longer in a free and open society, but a very tightly closed one where fear reigns and keeps us all under control--where our beliefs must yield to pre-set political and religious dogma we are force fed.   

Not only is it hard to swallow that something like this could happen in our country, it is hard to fathom how anyone can be so self-righteous, so emboldened, to think it a perfectly good idea to socially engineer society with the same iron fists as history's liberty-crushing despots.   All of that talk about equality, justice, liberty, tolerance and diversity, is just talk.  It’s a one way street leading to oppression.  And so frenzied are they with their viewpoints -- so intent on crushing any opposing ideas-- that they are blinded to their own bigotry. 

So now, no longer is it just the government that can single you out, punish and persecute you for being a patriot or a tea partier.  Now, your employer can as well.  And then, maybe your landlord.  And, why not the local hospital?  And what about your kids in school?  For those of you from the old USSR, you know, this was how it was done.  Stick to the party line, keep quiet, support the state…and you keep your job and get assigned a small apartment.  If you don’t, your kids suffer in school, your boss makes life difficult at work and don’t be surprised if your electricity doesn’t work.  Take on the entire system, become a dissident or refusnik, and it’s off to Siberia.  You’ll be lucky if you live.

Knowledge is indeed power, and when those in power can use their knowledge of what you do outside of work to determine your professional fate, we have indeed stepped behind the Iron Curtain.

This is simply chilling.   

Mr. Eich: you were right to stand up for yourself and to fight hard not to be bullied out of your position as CEO.  There are legions who are watching, who are disgusted and who support you.  We will not stand by and allow this kind of persecution to go unaddressed.  Nor should you.  You were terminated for no reason other than your personal religious, moral or political beliefs.  And the evidence is irrefutable.

Sue ‘em.  Sue their brains out.          

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