The de facto sacking of Brendan Eich and Section 37

In a recent issue of The Irish Catholic I wrote a piece strongly criticising the de facto sacking of Brendan Eich as CEO of Mozilla. Eich was shown the front door because he once made a donation to a campaign in favour of traditional marriage.

In turn it was pointed out to me on social media that my stance seemed in direct contradiction of my support of Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act which allows religious organisations not to employ anyone who would undermine their ethos.

I’ll come back to that, but first let me point out that the people who are actually in total contradiction here and those who supported the ousting of Eich but oppose Section 37.

How can they possibly square this circle? Their ground for supporting the ousting of Eich is that the ethos of Mozilla is ‘open’ and ‘tolerant’ and Eich’s stance on same-sex marriage violates that ethos. Very well then, on what possible grounds can they oppose Section 37? If anything they should support its extension.

They really have to make up their minds here. Do you believe an organisation should be able to act against an employee who acts against its ethos, or not? Or do they believe that this right should only extend to organisations whose ethos they like, but not to organisations whose ethos they dislike? Is that it?

I support the operation of Section 37 or something like it when a particular ethos is vital to the very identity of an organisation. A Catholic school ceases to be a Catholic school when it cannot protect its ethos. That should be clear to everyone.

Likewise the Labour party would cease to be the Labour party if it could not protect its ethos and this would clearly happen if it was forced to employ people who openly disbelieved in and flouted that ethos.

On the other hand what is core to a company that produces biscuits, or cereal, or internet browsers is the ability to produce all these things efficiently. The company must treat all its employees fairly of course, but in what way is an employee’s opinion, stated or otherwise, on issues like religion, abortion, politics or marriage relevant to the running of the company?

The de facto sacking of Eich brings us into very dangerous territory indeed. If Eich can be effectively sacked like this because of his views on same-sex marriage, then why not sack anyone who makes an employee or a user of that company’s products feel uncomfortable about anything?

Should we sack CEOs and others who are supporters of the Republican party? Who are pro-choice or pro-life? Who are pro-religion or anti-religion?

The core product of a religious organisation is, in many ways its ethos, or rather what it delivers (e.g. education) is hugely shaped by its ethos. The same goes for any organisation that is philosophical first and foremost.

But this logic simply does not apply to a company like Mozilla, or if it does, then the supporters of the sacking of Eich are effectively supporting extending something like Section 37 everywhere and anywhere. Is that really what they want?