Last week Brendan Eich was forced to step down as CEO of Mozilla Corporation because of complaints that, among other things, he had given a contribution to support Proposition 8–the amendment to the California Constitution defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. These developments have occasioned a debated about whether it was a good or bad thing that Eich had to resign.
One view has it that the episode illustrates a disturbing illiberality and vengefulness on the part of some proponents of same-sex marriage. This is the view of many conservatives, but also of liberal (and gay) blogger Andrew Sullivan.
The opposite view–the extreme left view–defends the forcing out of Eich on the grounds that his views are evil and retrograde and people like him should not be in high status positions. People who make this argument are doing everything they can to confirm the critique made by the critics mentioned in the previous paragraph.
I am most interested in a middle position I have seen defended. This view holds that it was proper to seek Eich’s removal just because his views don’t fit with the values of the Mozilla community. According to this perspective, the Mozilla Corporation does not exist only to make money but to embody certain values, and since many thought Eich did not share those values, they could properly ask him to leave.
I don’t know enough about Mozilla to know whether this argument is fully persuasive, but what really interests me in it is the principle it presupposes. It presupposes that a corporation might have a kind of ethical identity, derived from the ethical intentions of the people who constitute it.
That makes a lot of sense to me. A corporation is not just an abstraction but is made up of human individuals who have decided to cooperate with a view to some common good. Here’s the point: If this is true of Mozilla, wouldn’t it also be true, say, of Catholic hospitals and universities, which are set up not just to provide health care or education, but to do so according to Catholic standards? And if it is true, wouldn’t these institutions have a point in saying that they have an interest in not providing forms of health care coverage that they find immoral?