Why the Mozilla CEO’s resignation was the best possible move

In 2008, technologist Brandon Eich donated $1,000 to Proposition 8, California’s failed ban on same-sex marriage. Eich, an influential member within the tech community, is the creator of JavaScript and cofounder of Mozilla Firefox. After only 11 days as CEO of Mozilla – 11 days of backlash in response to his appointment – he resigned. This controversy has prompted dialog about the relationship between politics and business. There have been cries about “free speech” from those who oppose his resignation, but Eich was right to resign even if he was under significant pressure. Given Eich’s previous donation and the lack of an apology, the pressure put on Eich was wholly justified.

When users viewed OkCupid on Firefox, the website displayed a message encouraging them to boycott Firefox.

“If individuals like Mr. Eich had their way, then roughly 8 percent of the relationships we’ve worked so hard to bring about would be illegal,” the message said.

Additionally, several Mozilla employees spoke out and three members of the Mozilla board quit.

Eich published a blog post that preached his commitment to inclusiveness at Mozilla. He detailed his commitment to tolerance and inclusive benefits for members of the LGBTQ-plus community. The post, however, was essentially a non-apology amidst rhetoric about his “sorrow at having caused pain.”

As controversy erupted from activists as well as employees, Mozilla reinforced its “culture of openness” and acceptance of diversity in sexual orientation and beliefs. Mozilla’s head of development Geoffrey MacDougall admitted facing a conflict between free speech and equality, stating, “The right to speech is only universal if everyone is equal first.” I could not agree more with this statement.

In some states, LGBTQ-plus individuals must worry about whether or not they will lose their job or receive equal health benefits if they are in a same-sex marriage. This implicitly restricts free speech as it carries the risk of discrimination and unemployment. Political or moral opposition to an entire group of people is an implicit impediment to free speech.

Some have argued that Eich’s past political involvement sentiment should not have an impact on his career today, especially given his statement to uphold Mozilla’s commitment to diversity. Eich has never explicitly apologized for his donation to Prop 8, however, and even if he had upon his appointment, I believe it would have been disingenuous at best.

It has been six years since Eich donated to Prop 8, and it has been less than a year since the anti-marriage equality law was overturned. His commitment to Mozilla’s mission does not undermine the damage caused by Prop 8, and to claim ignorance about its effects is objectionable.

There has been significant debate about whether or not his personal views should have impacted his position. Eich has stood by his donation and he has not apologized. Roy Edroso of The Village Voice points out that many of the conservatives who believe that the left is promoting intolerance are the same conservatives who would quickly support Boy Scouts’ prohibition of gay scoutmasters. In this case, to oppose backlash against the former CEO would be hypocritical.

In Eich’s case, he was pressured to resign because of his personal views. This says nothing about freedom of speech; he is not being tried, and his resignation is not a legal matter. OkCupid’s boycott brought significant awareness to Eich’s personal views, and the public responded.

For the sake of Mozilla’s business, it was wise of Eich to resign. Business aside, this controversy has shown the public’s intolerance of bigotry and ultimately, I hope this reinforces the fact that free speech does not imply freedom of speech without consequences.