This week a well known company whose products I have used for years made national headlines. Why? They made a controversial decision based on their closely held corporate convictions in response to a national outcry. They were criticized by those on the other side who claimed that their expression of their organizational beliefs would violate the freedom of their employees and cause them harm.
No, I am not talking about Hobby Lobby. I am talking about Mozilla.
Yesterday, newly appointed Mozilla CEO Brandon Eich resigned amidst an online furor that erupted because he donated $1,000 to support California’s Proposition 8 opposing the legalization of same sex marriage. Though Eich had worked for the company for years, made significant achievements in the tech field, and committed to keep his personal convictions isolated from his corporate leadership, criticisms (and even boycotts by some groups, like dating site OK Cupid) resulted in his resignation.
Isn’t it interesting that many who don’t think Hobby Lobby can have corporate convictions now think that Mozilla can?
The parallels between the two situations are striking. Of course, there are some distinctives between the two that keep them from being identical. But think about the similarities between them on the basis of the following assertion about convictional decision making by organizations (divided into four aspects): (1) Organizations can hold (2) closely held corporate convictions (3) that are used to make significant decisions (4) that reflect the beliefs of its leadership.
Let’s think through the parallels between these two corporate situations in light of all four of aspects of the assertion above.
1. Organizations can hold: This is an issue of ability. Can an organization, as an organization, have corporate convictions that drive decisions. It is not a question of should they hold any particular conviction(s). It is Hobby Lobby’s conviction that it will not provide abortion-inducing contraceptives. It is Mozilla’s conviction that they will not be led by someone who opposes same sex marriage. It is inconsistent to suggest that one organization can have a core conviction and not the other.
2. Closely held corporate convictions: This is an issue of Identity. Notice the term is corporate conviction, not religious belief because Mozilla would likely deny that a particular religion is driving their decision. Regardless of whether an organization’s convictions are explicitly based on religion, all companies have some form of corporate values. Both Hobby Lobby and Mozilla have explicitly stated core convictions. It is inconsistent to suggest that one organization can have corporate convictions and not another.
3. That are used to make significant decisions: This is an issue of strategy. It should be expected that corporations make strategic decisions on the basis of their core values. In the case of Hobby Lobby, the decision was to oppose coverage of abortion inducing contraceptives. In the case of Mozilla, the decision was to remove a leader whose personal beliefs did not match their corporate values. It is inconsistent to suggest that it is right for one organization to make strategic decisions based on core convictions and not the other.
4. That reflect the beliefs of its leadership: This is a question of ideology. The personal preferences of a company’s leadership can, and often do, shape the corporate convictions of an organization. One of the main critiques of Hobby Lobby is that its leadership has forced its convictions onto the employees of the organization. But isn’t this precisely what Mozilla has done too? How would reactions have been different if Mozilla ran off their CEO for supporting same sex marriage rather than opposing it? Mozilla chairwoman Mitchell Baker said the company failed to stay “true to ourselves” and reflect its organizational culture of “diversity and inclusiveness.” In both cases, the convictions of the leadership caused the organization to make controversial decisions. It is inconsistent to suggest that it is right for one organization to make decisions that reflect the ideologies of its leaders and not the other.
Mozilla’s decision has raised major concerns for those who care about freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Whether you are Hobby Lobby or your hobby is to lobby for what you believe, you must count the costs of your convictions.
Phillip Bethancourt is Executive Vice President of the ERLC. Prior to this role, Phillip served as Vice President for Enrollment Management and Assistant Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Seminary. He completed an MDiv and PhD in Systematic Theology at Southern after attending Texas A&M University.