Good businessmen free to have odious beliefs

Newly instated Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich resigned from his post last week as a result of controversy surrounding his anti-gay political beliefs.

Eich was revealed to have contributed money to the Proposition 8 campaign in 2008 to ban same-sex marriage in California; this discovery spurred nationwide calls for his removal, including a direct censure by popular online dating service OkCupid — which featured a message to all of the website’s Mozilla Firefox users urging them to use a different browser. Clearly, these extensive efforts to tear down a homophobic CEO were effective. But were such efforts justified?

On one hand, placement of discriminatory individuals in positions of power should absolutely be discouraged. There are many cases where the public has the right — and, arguably, the obligation — to criticize or boycott a company and its leadership. These cases include when CEOs use their companies as platforms to voice discriminatory beliefs, when they use company revenue to support bigoted policies, when they discriminate against employees, or when they market offensive products and censor tolerant ones.

To name just a few examples, Chick-Fil-A has donated millions of company money to anti-gay organizations; Urban Outfitters pulled anti-Proposition 8 T-shirts from shelves and supported Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential campaign; and the Salvation Army regularly lobbies for the federal implementation of anti-gay policies. Boycotting any one of these companies in response to its CEO’s bigotry — or demanding that CEO’s resignation — would be fully warranted.

However, the case of Mozilla’s now-former CEO Eich is not so clear cut. Those condemning Eich likely knew nothing more about him than his prejudiced — and private — beliefs. They had no knowledge of his work history, business practices, or qualifications for the position. They operated instead on the conviction that, as a homophobe, Eich had to be shot down.

Eich resigned due to public pressure before he was ever given a chance to prove his ability to operate effectively as a businessman. Chances are, Eich’s personal beliefs would have had a negligible effect on the operation of Mozilla — if that were the case, Eich’s personal beliefs would ultimately be irrelevant. The right to free speech extends even to those in positions of power, and as long as prejudiced CEOs do not take advantage of their power to promote discrimination, their personal beliefs should not be a point of discussion.

The public should hesitate to denounce every powerful person who expresses an unsavory belief. They should check first to see if that opinion is actually impacting how that person does their job. If not, then one person’s opinion shouldn’t matter.