Free-Speech War Over Mozilla Ouster Enters Congress

Conservatives are hoping to make Brendan Eich a martyr for free speech, a la Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson.

National Journal
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Dustin Volz
April 7, 2014, 11:59 a.m.

Brendan Eich’s resig­na­tion from Moz­illa is quickly be­com­ing a Duck Dyn­asty-styl­ized talk­ing point for con­ser­vat­ive politi­cians prone to de­cry­ing the choice of polit­ic­al cor­rect­ness over free­dom of speech.

As dur­ing the scan­dal late last year that en­vel­oped Phil Robertson, the A&E real­ity-tele­vi­sion star whose in­fam­ously crude, ho­mo­phobic re­marks left his show briefly sus­pen­ded, some politi­cians are at­tempt­ing to lever­age Eich’s de­par­ture, claim­ing it rep­res­ents an iron­ic kind of in­tol­er­ance from the grow­ing gay-rights move­ment.

On Monday, Rep. Frank Wolf took to the House floor to air his griev­ances over Eich’s resig­na­tion.

“Re­gard­less of your views on mar­riage, any Amer­ic­an who val­ues the First Amend­ment should be deeply troubled that this man was es­sen­tially driv­en from his job be­cause of his per­son­al be­liefs,” the Vir­gin­ia Re­pub­lic­an said. “By all ac­counts, he’s a fair and hon­or­able em­ploy­er, yet be­cause of his private be­liefs about tra­di­tion­al mar­riage, which I share, he has been de­mon­ized and his live­li­hood has been com­prom­ised.”

Wolf con­tin­ued: “Pub­lic opin­ion on gay mar­riage has shif­ted since 2008, when both then-pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates Barack Obama and John Mc­Cain sup­por­ted de­fin­ing mar­riage as the uni­on of one man and one wo­man — but Amer­ica has nev­er been defined by mob rule.”

Eich chose to step down as CEO last Thursday fol­low­ing protests against him for his $1,000 dona­tion to a 2008 anti-gay-mar­riage meas­ure in Cali­for­nia. Moz­illa had ap­poin­ted Eich, who cofoun­ded the com­pany, to the ex­ec­ut­ive po­s­i­tion just a week earli­er be­fore its sud­den about-face, which Moz­illa Chair­wo­man Mitchell Baker de­scribed as the best thing “for Moz­illa and our com­munity.”

Wolf went on to say that the the fur­or last week, which in­cluded a de facto ban of Moz­illa’s Fire­fox web browser on the on­line-dat­ing site Ok­Cu­pid, vi­ol­ated the First Amend­ment’s guar­an­tee of free­dom of speech and “was stifling of de­bate, a si­len­cing of dis­sent.”

Wolf isn’t the only politi­cian sound­ing the free-speech alarms so far. Over the week­end, former House Speak­er Newt Gin­grich said Eich was forced to leave Moz­illa due to a “new fas­cism” tak­ing over parts of cor­por­ate Amer­ica that means “[if] you have the wrong views, mean­ing con­ser­vat­ive, you have no ca­reer.”

The Duck Dyn­asty con­tro­versy grew so large last Decem­ber that it evoked re­sponses from pos­sible Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates for the pres­id­ency, in­clud­ing Louisi­ana Gov. Bobby Jin­dal and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, as well as one­time vice pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Sarah Pal­in and, even­tu­ally, even Pres­id­ent Obama.