Should A Belief Cost You Your Job?

Mozilla and Brendan Eich

By Jim Parker

Brendan Eich was forced out of his job as CEO of Mozilla, a software company, because many years ago he made a single contribution to Proposition 8, which is a California amendment that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman. Although he was a co-founder of the company and had worked there for 16 years with an untarnished record, Eich was removed because of a very public campaign waged against him by various internal Mozilla employees and external organizations for his support of Proposition 8.

The situation has resulted in strong debates over free speech, corporate responsibility, and outright fear over how an individual's personal beliefs can result in the loss of their job now in America. For example, if a person posts a Facebook picture of their participation in a right-to-life march, are they at risk over losing their corporate position because someone at the company sees their post and charges them with "creating a hostile workplace environment" because they "oppose women's reproductive rights"?

While many Christian writers have decried the bullying that resulted in Eich's "voluntary stepping down" at Mozilla, they have been met with opposing arguments from the other side that include hypothetical situations, which would supposedly result in Christians responding in the same fashion as Mozilla did with Eich. For example, what if the CEO of a prominent Christian organization was suddenly outted as being an atheist?

Let me be clear on the fact that I am neither a lawyer nor a human resources expert on this subject. However, I have been a professional in the secular workforce for a couple of decades, working both in individual contributor and executive positions so I do have some experience in this area.

I'd like to offer three questions that I think may help bring clarity to whether Brendan Eich, or anyone alive in America today, should live in fear of a private belief they hold being used as a weapon against them in the workplace.

Question 1

Does the privately held belief directly conflict with the foundational mission of the company / organization or does it merely appear to stand at odds with tertiary corporate beliefs?

Every company or organization has a mission statement and set of foundational principles that serve to identify the organization's goals, aims, and direction. This is what the company "hangs its hat" upon and uses to classify what it does.

Underneath this level will exist many other beliefs, practices, etc., which may indirectly be supportive in nature of the overall organization and reflect certain ideas the company values, but even so don't directly participate in the primary mission of the company.

While a person's private beliefs may be called into question if they stand in direct contrast to the foundational principles of an organization (e.g. an atheist running Campus Crusade for Christ), a supposed difference of opinion with tertiary organizational principles is entirely another matter.

In Eich's case, Mozilla's mission statement and foundational principles are very public, and a reading of them will show that Eich's privately held belief violated nothing contained within them.

Question 2

Is there direct evidence that the privately held belief has been practiced within the organization to such an extent that laws governing the workplace have been broken?

If a person's private beliefs are practiced to the point where it can be directly demonstrated with evidence that workplace laws are being broken, then a person's private beliefs are open to being challenged. As Christians, we are called upon to obey all laws (Romans 13, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13-14) and are privileged to live in America where we should be able to respectfully and lawfully work to change any laws we believe are incorrect, all the while adhering to the ones currently in place. [1]

With respect to Eich's situation, there is no evidence whatsoever that he violated any employment laws or acted discriminatory towards any employee of Mozilla.

Question 3

Is the privately held belief strongly, continually, and abusively promoted to workers within the organization by the person or is it simply practiced and evangelized by the individual outside of the professional workplace setting?

Can a Christian wear a cross necklace at work, have a plaque on their desk that says "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13), or organize a Bible study for co-workers? While this may perhaps be the area most open to interpretation and varying views, I think there are some overarching principles that can be applied that bring clarity.

In my opinion, it's one thing to have voluntary group meetings to discuss the Bible once a week with other Christians at work but another to leave Christian tracts on the desk of a co-worker who has not expressed a desire to learn more about Christianity. Further, if a belief does not conflict with the foundational principles and mission of the organization (see above) and is solely practiced outside of the corporate domain, then a hands-off approach should be taken by the organization.

As to Brendan Eich, there is no evidence that he promoted his private belief internally to co-workers at Mozilla in an aggressive or even subtle fashion.

Last Thoughts

As you can probably guess, I believe the ousting of Mozilla's Brendan Eich is both unjust and contradictory as there is little doubt that those behind his removal preach tolerance, anti-bigotry, free speech / expression, and unity and yet have acted in an intolerant, bigoted, anti-free speech / expression and divisive fashion. I'm not alone in my opinion as many non-Christians and secularists have said much the same. [2]

Whatever your worldview, I doubt seriously that you want to live in a culture where holding a private belief that does not violate the primary mission of your company or practiced in a way that is illegal can cost you your source of income. It takes wisdom, discernment, integrity and a willingness to push aside personal bias sometimes to uphold and defend such a thing, but defend it we must.

1. Exceptions may exist if the government commands evil — e.g., if the government commands the abortion of a child if the person already has one baby.
2. See the following for examples:
Tony Bradley, "Backlash Against Brendan Eich Crossed A Line"
"The Hounding of a Heretic," Part One and Part Two

TagsControversial-Issues  |  Current-Issues  |  Political-Issues

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Published 4-7-14