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Eich and the Right



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Like some other liberal commentators, Brian Beutler thinks conservatives are being inconsistent when it comes to Mozilla.

Yesterday, freedom of speech didn’t mean you must get to say whatever you want and keep your status as a government bureaucrat or famous musician. Today it is imperiled if it means you can’t say whatever you want and remain CEO of a company or the star of a reality TV show about backwater millionaires.

Yesterday, employer rights were sacrosanct, and trumped the rights of sexual minorities; today they must be curtailed to protect the rights of political minorities.

It’s entirely reasonable for Beutler to point out that Mozilla has a right to make the decisions it wanted and that conservatives usually champion that right. I don’t think, though, that many conservatives  have changed their view on that. There may be some conservatives, here and there, who want to curtail Mozilla’s the legal right of a company to can somebody because he opposes same-sex marriage, and some who use incautious rhetoric that suggests as much. But all I’ve seen is conservatives who think Mozilla should have that right but believe it wrong to exercise it that way.

Beutler also points out, again reasonably, that when an opinion moves from majority to minority status those who hold it can find their status changing, too, in ways that can feel threatening but do not amount to a legitimate grievance. He likens the situation of the religious conservatives who have defended Eich to that of Jews in areas with large Christian majorities. They were not “marginalized,” he says.

Anyone who grew up Jewish in a heavily Christian part of the country can attest to this. If you’re Jewish almost anywhere in America, and want to visit family during your holidays, you have to take time off work or school and no amount of whining about your religious liberty will force schools and businesses and the government to reorganize their calendars to suit your needs. Being a member of a political or religious minority can be annoying, but people deal with it constantly, without the benefit of an outpouring of rhetorical support from the professional right. And in the end it probably makes sense that federal holidays coincide with Christian holidays because there really aren’t very many Jews in America.

But in the extremely unlikely event that we wake up generations from now and American Jews somehow outnumber American Christians, the official holiday schedules will probably change, and Christians would probably perceive it as an erosion of their religious liberty. But in fact it’d simply reflect a transfer of privilege. And everyone would just have to get used to it.

All of that is right, and it really would be “whiny and hyperbolic” for conservative Christians to complain if that were all they were reacting to. Earlier in his post, though, Beutler uses a different comparison. “Nobody seriously disputes that Mozilla’s board would’ve been acting appropriately if they’d fired a CEO for donating to a white supremacist group, because the white supremacist worldview is no longer a privileged one. Opposing gay marriage used to be privileged, but very quickly, and particularly in Silicon Valley, it no longer is.” I think the word “tolerated” makes more sense than “privileged” in that first sentence.

Beutler is, presumably, using the white-supremacist example partly to make the valid point that there is no absolute principle that condemns firing someone based on his views. (I make the same point, with the same example, here.) But a lot of people don’t think that religious conservatives–or Jews in areas with large Christian majorities–should be treated the way we treat white supremacists. Of course that’s something that large numbers of people will, quite rightly, protest.

 



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