Let’s do a bit of supposin’, shall we?
Suppose, for instance, that a flourishing technology company hires some guy to be its CEO, and shortly thereafter it is revealed that this man once donated $1,000 to the Ku Klux Klan—a contribution he does not regret. Following a public outcry from both within and without the company, the CEO finds the pressure too great for him to continue, and he resigns.
Nothing wrong with this, right? In the world we now inhabit, to express white supremacist views—and financially support white supremacist groups—is perfectly legitimate grounds for the face of a large (or small) corporation to be effectively hounded from his post.
Yes, one has the right to say anything one wants and to spend one’s cash as one sees fit. However, this does not prevent a company from concluding that such an official holding such views could yield catastrophic economic consequences (read: a massive exodus of customers) and thus, of out prudence, getting rid of this cretin as swiftly as possible.
In short: Freedom of speech does not guarantee freedom from consequences of that speech.
Now suppose, however, that instead of having given $1,000 to the KKK, our hypothetical CEO had contributed to some anti-abortion group, such as National Right to Life or Pro-Life Action League. Were this disclosure to lead to the same series of events described above—outrage, cries for dismissal, and actual dismissal—would it not be considered a scandal?
To express any opinion whatever about abortion might be destined to cause controversy, but since the American public is divided on the question, it would be absurd to contend that any particular opinion is effectively “out of bounds” in the national discourse.
As such, to dismiss or otherwise ostracize the head of a company that has nothing to do with abortion on the basis of his views on abortion smacks just the slightest bit of totalitarianism, does it not? Do we really want to be a country that simply gets rid of people who say things that might make us uncomfortable?
I float these hypothetical scenarios in response to the non-hypothetical occurrence last week, in which a CEO named Brendan Eich was forced to resign from the Mozilla Corporation because of his $1,000 donation in 2008 in support of California’s Proposition 8. You know, the one that outlawed gay marriage.
In this keruffle’s wake, the central question—duly hashed out across the blogosphere for the past week—is whether Eich’s opposition to same-sex marriage was, all by itself, a valid reason for him to be induced to abandon his position atop Mozilla, which runs the Firefox browser system.
In other words, is the view that gay marriage is a bad idea now among those thoughts that a person can no longer express without fear of losing his or her job?
I must confess that I am conflicted.
On one hand, I put tremendous stock in my position as a First Amendment absolutist. I would prefer that everyone be able to say exactly what they think, and that everyone else allow them to do so. As a supporter of gay marriage rights, I am rather horrified by the possibility that anyone with an opposing view would decline to state it for reasons of political correctness or outright fear of persecution.
Frankly, I think some people make too much of a deal about what a particular CEO thinks when making decisions as consumers. As blogger Andrew Sullivan so crispy observed, it is not a little ironic that the very people who have long demanded “tolerance” from their rhetorical foes are, themselves, now acting so very intolerantly toward those who refuse to tow the party line on the matter of gay rights.
There is just one thing preventing me from vocalizing the principle of open discourse at the absolute top of my lungs, and that is my unadulterated delight that this party line on gay rights—and specifically gay marriage—is now the majority view in the United States.
To be clear: At this point in time, to say that gay people are not entitled to marriage is not as horrific as saying black people are not entitled to any and all rights accorded white people. However, our culture is plainly, steadily and irreversibly moving in that direction, and I am pleased as punch that this is the case. So far as I’m concerned, the day that anti-gay words and actions become utterly verboten in polite society is one that cannot possibly come soon enough.
But until that day dawns, let us resist the urge to impose it by force, like some politically correct mob. It’s a highly unattractive means of getting one’s way, whatever the issue might be, and we Americans are supposed to be better than that.
Suppose, in the future, we make more of an effort to prove it?