Rep. Wolf on Mozilla CEO's Ouster: 'It Was the Silencing of Dissent'

April 7, 2014 - 3:46 PM

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Mozilla co-founder and former CEO Brendan Eich. (AP Photo/Mozilla)

(CNSNews.com) – The ousting of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich over his views on traditional marriage amounted to the silencing of dissent, the compromising of freedom of speech and religion in America, and “the implications are vast and deeply troubling,” Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) said on Monday, likening the incident to "mob rule."

Wolf acknowledged that public views on same-sex marriage have shifted since 2008 – “when both then-presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain supported defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

“But America has never been defined by mob rule,” he said. “Even if just one percent of the country supported defining marriage as between a man and a woman – which is hardly the case – that one percent still has the right to hold that view, particularly when it is a view based in many cases on one’s most deeply-held faith convictions.”

Eich, co-founder of Mozilla, which makes the popular Firefox web browser, was appointed CEO on March 25, but resigned late last week after a backlash from critics unhappy with a $1,000 donation he made in 2008 to California’s Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that opposed same-sex marriage. The protests were largely spearheaded by an online dating website, OKCupid.

Mozilla executive chair Mitchell Baker confirmed his departure with a statement of apology: “Mozilla prides itself on being held to a different standard and, this past week, we didn’t live up to it. We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right: it’s because we haven’t stayed true to ourselves.”

Yet, in a blog written two days after he took over as CEO on March 24, Eich wrote about his commitment to “inclusion” at Mozilla and spelled out actions he planned to take in his new role.

“I am committed to ensuring that Mozilla is, and will remain, a place that includes and supports everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, economic status, or religion,” Eich wrote.

“You will see exemplary behavior from me toward everyone in our community, no matter who they are; and the same toward all those whom we hope will join, and for those who use our products,” he said. “Mozilla’s inclusive health benefits policies will not regress in any way."

“And I will not tolerate behavior among community members that violates our Community Participation Guidelines or (for employees) our inclusive and non-discriminatory employment policies,” Eich wrote.

Nonetheless, Eich was forced out. Congressman Wolf, a veteran religious-freedom advocate, expressed grave concern about the episode.

“Regardless of your views on marriage, any American who values the First Amendment should be deeply troubled that this man was essentially driven from his job because of his personal beliefs,” he said. “I want to stress, his personal beliefs. Not his company’s, but his own."

“Nowhere have I read that Mr. Eich ever discriminated against co-workers," said Wolf.   "In fact, by all accounts, he is a fair and honorable employer. Yet because of his private beliefs about traditional marriage, which I share, he has been demonized and his livelihood has been compromised.”

Wolf said the chilling effect the incident would have on free speech could not be overstated.

“I understand that reasonable people can disagree on issues. In fact, robust debate in the public square is itself an American hallmark. But what happened last week was not debate.  It was stifling of debate.  It was the silencing of dissent.  It was the compromising of two of our nation’s most cherished principles: freedom of speech and freedom of religion.”

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In her statement on Eich’s departure, Baker said, “Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech. 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.”

In a more recent statement, Mozilla disputed some reports saying that Eich had been fired or asked to resign by the board.

“Board members and senior executives tried to get Brendan to stay at Mozilla in another role or to stay actively involved with Mozilla as a volunteer contributor,” it said. “Brendan decided that it was better for himself and for Mozilla to sever all ties, at least for now.”