Mozilla boss resigns over consumer boycott

By Quentin Langley

California law requires the state to publish the name, address, and employer details of anyone who makes a donation of more than $100 to a political campaign. In 2008 Brendan Eich of Mozilla made a donation to Proposition Eight,the campaign to outlaw gay marriage in California. This was not some fringe opinion, at the time: the initiative was carried with 52% of the vote, though it is likely that Eich was in a minority in Silican Valley. Many prominent people, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, opposed gay marriage at the time. (Full disclosure:this blogger has supported gay marriage for over 30 years and is glad to see so many other people catching up).

On March 24, Eich, who was Mozilla’s Chief Technology Officer, was promoted to CEO. Almost immediately, his support for Prop Eight emerged. Organisations immediately began raising petitions to have him fired. The dating website, OKCupid, asked its customers to stop using Mozilla’s browser, Firefox. And now Eich has resiged after only a few weeks in post.

Obviously, those who advocated boycotting Mozilla were engaging in constitutionally protected free speech. Obviously, when he donated money to Prop Eight, so was Eich. No-one is suggesting there should be legal consequences for any party to this debate.

But is it right that someone who advocated a widely held belief, shared by the man who was, on the same day, elected President of the United States, should be hounded out of his job.

Is it right that California should require political campaigns to publish details of everyone who donates to campaigns? The Supreme Court has previously held that an Alabama law requiring the NAACP to publish its membership list breached the First Amendment, as freedom to associate is infringed if people are made subject to intimidation for engaging in such association.

This was a very successful brandjack. But what are the implications for freedom of speech?

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