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The High Cost of Free Speech

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What happens when the CEO of a Silicon Valley software giant trespasses against the reigning corporate ethos? Brendan Eich, creator of Java Script, found out the hard way this March when he was forced to resign after having occupied the top post of Mozilla for a mere two weeks. His sin? A full seven years ago, Eich donated $1,000 to the campaign of Proposition 8, California’s 2008 ballot measure that restricts the definition of marriage to one man and one woman.

Once Eich’s transgression became known, Mozilla employees embarked on a Twitter campaign against their new boss, calling for his head. A boycott was soon organized, in part by the company’s own web developers. Soon the dating website OKCupid.com jumped into the fray and blocked Mozilla’s popular Firefox web browser, and it was reported that the omnipresent Google, which was negotiating a search contract with Mozilla, also voiced concerns.

Eich was quick to repent of his past action, writing on his blog to express his “sorrow” at having “caused pain,” and to confirm that he is “committed to ensuring that Mozilla is, and will remain, a place that includes and supports everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, economic status, or religion” — the virtue of virtues in today’s world. He even promised to “work on new initiatives to reach out to those who feel excluded or have been marginalized.”

But Eich’s act of contrition wasn’t enough. The people wanted expiation. They wanted an example to be made of him. “If he had apologized years ago, this would be a non-issue,” said Hampton Catlin, a web developer and a “partnered” homosexual who helped spearhead the boycott. “We will continue our boycott until Brendan Eich is completely removed from any day-to-day activities at Mozilla,” Catlin wrote in an open letter to the company.

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