The Astonishing Slate Stupidity Over Mozilla

One Mark Joseph Stern wrote a breathtakingly dumb piece at Slate concerning the Mozilla story: “The Astonishing Conservative Hypocrisy Over Mozilla and the First Amendment.”

A repeated cry in conservative and libertarian circles over anti-gay Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich’s resignation is that the company is somehow trampling Eich’s free speech rights.

Hold on there, Sparky.

First, to illustrate that “repeated cry,” Stern cites The American Conservative (which interestingly quotes The Nation taking an anti-Mozilla stance) on the conservative side, and Andrew Freaking Sullivan on the libertarian side?

(Also, I used to subscribe to The American Conservative, and it’s not exactly representative of the conservative mainstream, to put it very politely.)

To tell you the truth, I really didn’t notice much chatter about the First Amendment in this debate, at least from the conservative side. Has there been talk about the chilling effect on speech (as opposed to rights) caused by people who share the Mozilla mindset? Absolutely. But surely Stern knows that not every discussion about speech is ergo First Amendment chat.

What I did notice a lot of, though, was those who are not SSM-militants balking at the concept that a $1000 donation to the Prop. 8 campaign constitutes sufficient grounds to be bullied (remember that word?) into resigning, let alone run out of civil society.

Also, where is the evidence that Eich is “anti-gay”? The mere fact that he supports the longstanding, bipartisan view of marriage? That makes someone “anti-gay”? Really?

See what you’re doing here, knucklehead? Why would anyone bother to be sympathetic to other homosexual advocacy issues if one is going to be labeled a homophobe for refusing to revise ones definition of marriage because SSM-militants tell us to?

OK, we’ve got a long way to go here, and I’ve only made it through the first sentence. Back to Stern:

Eich, as you’ve surely heard, donated $1,000 in 2008 to California’s Proposition 8 campaign, which successfully outlawed gay marriage in that state before getting shot down by the courts. It’s true that, because of this donation, Mozilla’s leaders and board members pressured Eich to resign. But it’s absurd and hypocritical to claim that this pressure constituted an infringement of Eich’s legal rights.

Well, actually, Prop. 8 defined marriage: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” It didn’t outlaw gay marriage. A semantic point, yes–but let’s be accurate. Prop. 8 impacted all manner of marriages that do not fit the one-man-and-one-woman model.

Shot down? Apparently firearms metaphors are cool again.

Again, one can cherry-pick isolated arguments that argue Eich’s legal rights were trampled on, but to argue that this is some groundswell of conservative opinion is a straw man figment of Stern’s imagination.

Let’s start with the obvious: It is literally impossible for Mozilla to violate Eich’s constitutional freedom of speech. At the risk of sounding pedantic, the First Amendment applies exclusively to state actors, like Congress or state legislatures, so a private corporation like Mozilla simply cannot infringe upon an employee’s free speech rights, even if it wanted to. There is no wiggle room around this point. It is a basic constitutional fact.

Thank you, Captain Obvious, for further developing the straw man premise of your piece.

But I can already hear the inevitable retort: Sure, Mozilla wasn’t literally trampling on Eich’s First Amendment rights, but it was violating the broader principles of free speech and free association. This argument is strikingly one-sided and opportunistic. Corporations like Mozilla, for better or worse, are also endowed with significant rights of free speech and free association—for instance, the freedom of Mozilla’s board and leadership to condemn Eich’s anti-gay actions. And make no mistake: Freedom of association includes the freedom of exclusion, particularly the freedom to exclude from your private organization an individual whose conduct is inconsistent with your values. Mozilla’s decision to seek Eich’s resignation implicates the same First Amendment principles that famously allow the Boy Scouts to exclude gay troop leaders.

If you can already hear the inevitable retort, why not just have this conversation with yourself and leave us out of it?

Yes, there is a broader issue of free speech and free association.

The argument is only one-sided and opportunistic from Stern’s perspective. Because Stern immediately reverts to legal rights and attempts to conflate them with the reason for the outcry: That Mozilla forced out the co-founder of the company because he did not adhere to the pro-SSM program. (And it should be noted that Eich did so not by speaking out, but by way of a donation to the Prop. 8 campaign.) Eich didn’t make it an issue that Mozilla felt forced to deal with because of an outcry against his public utterances; Mozilla was prompted to take the action it did by pro-SSM militants who cannot brook disagreement with their stance, and who sought to make an example of Eich.

And having begun his piece writing about speech, Stern now moves to association (but leaves out religion) in invoking the Boy Scouts.

Oddly, however, I don’t see defenders of Eich also criticizing the Boy Scouts for excluding gay men because the organization disagrees with their conduct and beliefs. Nor do I even see conservatives taking Mozilla’s rights as a private corporation seriously—a predictable hypocrisy made especially obnoxious in light of last week’s widespread right-wing praise of the corporate plaintiff’s claim in Hobby Lobby. This is the conservative double standard in the realm of corporate rights: When the corporation supports a right-wing pet project—say, denying women reproductive care—conservatives pen encomia to the First Amendment’s corporate protections. But when a corporation dares to support a progressive cause like gay rights, conservatives cry foul at its alleged censorship of individual views.

Not all “defenders of Eich” are all in with the Boy Scouts’ policy per se, as Stern must know, having singled out Andrew Sullivan as his token spokesperson for libertarians.

Also, there is a difference between inventing an new right (SSM) and destroying an old one (the right of religiously-inclined people to adhere to the tenets of their faith vis. their associative organizations, which is under fire from many activist quarters).

Again, Stern conflates legal rights with broader issues. If, as Stern alleges, conservatives are not “taking Mozilla’s rights” seriously, it is probably more a function of the fact that, contra Stern, conservatives are for the most part not making the argument that Mozilla violated the law.

Is Stern here working on an friend of the plaintiffs’ brief for Hobby Lobby?

Is that what they’re calling abortion pills now, “reproductive care”?

When Stern writes, “But when a corporation dares to support a progressive cause like gay rights, conservatives cry foul at its alleged censorship of individual views,” he has truly jumped the beluga. Mr. Stern, corporate support of progressive causes is the rule, not the exception, as you must well know. Eich was not forced out because he stood in the way of Mozilla’s support of progressive causes, but because he quietly supported a cause according to his own conscience, and the Left pilloried him for it.

It’s really no surprise, of course, that the right wing views Mozilla’s objections to Eich’s anti-gay activities as censorship and Hobby Lobby’s objection to birth control as religious liberty. We’ve known all along that conservatives’ quiver of defenses for corporate rights have only been employed to further its own agenda. The right wing’s backlash over Mozilla’s move only further proves that opportunism, rather than principled dissent, drives its frantic charge for full corporate personhood. Keep that in mind as the conservative outrage machine takes aim at Mozilla for daring to exclude a man whose values and conduct it finds unacceptable.

It’s really no surprise, of course, that the Left’s objections to our objections to characterizing a Prop. 8 supporter as “anti-gay,” and to their OK-fine attitude (with some exceptions) to getting people fired for their beliefs, are usually a parade of logical fallacies, evasions, misrepresentations, and general nonsense.

What a fever swamp of a paragraph. (Golf clap.)

And Mr. Stern? Don’t be surprised if this specious collection of babble you penned comes back to haunt you, and everybody else who thinks Mozilla did the stand-up thing here.

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