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  • Randy Pench / rpench@sacbee.com

    Ben Boychuk

  • MOZILLA / Mozilla

    Brendan Eich faced heavy criticism from Mozilla employees and the public for making a $1,000 contribution in 2008 to support California’s ban on gay marriage under Proposition 8.

Ben Boychuk: Expelling Eich and other ‘enemies of the people’

Published: Saturday, Apr. 12, 2014 - 12:00 am

Who by now hasn’t heard of Brendan Eich? The man credited with inventing the Javascript programming language resigned as CEO of Mozilla last week, hounded out of his job because he wouldn’t apologize for giving $1,000 to the Proposition 8 campaign six years ago.

By all accounts, Eich was a good manager and a nice fellow who never discriminated against anyone. He just happened to think – along with 52 percent of California voters and the Democratic Party’s nominee for president at the time, to say nothing of the consensus of Western civilization for millennia – that marriage is best defined as a union between one man and one woman.

Eich pledged that his job as CEO would be to ensure “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.”

It didn’t matter. Murderers are sometimes spared execution if they throw themselves on the mercy of the court. Eich refused to recant or repent for his campaign donation, so no mercy for him.

What happened to Eich was awful. But it wasn’t unlawful. Government action didn’t cost Eich his job. Eich’s First Amendment rights remain nominally intact. Mozilla made a business decision, based on its perception of the market it serves.

Which just goes to show, once again, that culture is often more powerful than law, and markets are not always wise or infallible – but they’re better than the alternatives.

Every revolution eats its own, and “marriage equality” is no exception. Earlier this week, Mother Jones magazine reported that OKCupid co-founder and CEO Sam Yagan gave $500 to an “anti-gay” Utah congressman’s campaign in 2004. There was supposed to be some irony in this revelation, as the dating site had briefly blocked users of Mozilla’s Firefox browser to protest Eich’s alleged heresy.

Yagan wasted no time begging for forgiveness. He never would have given the money if he’d known Rep. Chris Cannon – a Mormon – opposed gay marriage, Yagan explained. That made him different from Eich. Yagan still has his job.

Meanwhile in Oregon, Chauncy Childs is facing a boycott of her business, which hasn’t even opened. Turns out, the Mormon co-owner of Moreland Farmers Pantry in Portland shared some unpopular opinions about marriage. As one commenter put it on the Boycott Moreland Farmers Pantry Facebook page: “This attitude should not be allowed a place in American society.” No tolerance for intolerance!

Nick Zukin, a Portland restaurant owner, had the temerity to criticize the Moreland boycott. Did it matter, as Zukin explained to the Portland Oregonian, that he strongly supports same-sex marriage? Heavens, no! For failing to show sufficient hatred for Childs, he, too, has become a boycott target.

Several commentators have called Eich’s ouster a watershed moment in the rise of what New York Times columnist Frank Bruni calls a “new gay orthodoxy.” But the trend was plain to see in 2008 following the Prop. 8 vote, when activists picketed – and occasionally vandalized – Mormon-owned businesses.

Truth is, the seeds were planted much earlier. I recall an uncomfortable exchange between a campus newspaper editor and the president of what was then called the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Association when I was an undergraduate at UC San Diego.

“I don’t get how you can print these things,” he said, referring to some criticism of leftist orthodoxy, “when they’re … just … wrong.”

I remember thinking to myself, “Thank God for the First Amendment.” But what happens when people lose reverence for free speech and begin to rationalize censorship? The rare view of a campus activist 22 years ago is becoming uncomfortably commonplace on and off college campuses today.

It’s one thing for a right-wing maniac to note these things. Where are the courageous liberals standing up for their ideals? Their voices seem muted – so few and far between.

It was ever thus. Every year or so, I re-read Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People.” Ibsen is a refreshing reactionary voice for our egalitarian age.

“The most dangerous enemy of truth and freedom amongst us is the compact majority – yes, the damned compact liberal majority – that is it! Now you know!” his protagonist, Thomas Stockmann, tells the townsfolk who turn on him for uncovering pollution at the nearby mineral baths, jeopardizing the local economy and threatening powerful interests.

“The majority always has right on its side,” replies Hovstad, the opportunistic newspaperman and “people’s herald” who abandons Stockmann when he senses public opinion starting to turn. Stockmann is jeered, heckled and ultimately ostracized.

Every progressive, freedom-loving American thinks he’ll stand firm like Ibsen’s hero when faced with a crisis of principle. Nobody ever thinks he’ll join the mob.

But forcing out an Eich? Boycotting a Childs or a Zukin? Oh, gosh, that’s different. It’s what any enlightened, liberal-minded person would do.


Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Contact him at bboychuk@city-journal.org.

Read more articles by Ben Boychuk



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