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This Tech CEO’s Story Shows Why the Supreme Court Must Protect Donor Privacy

Maureen Collins
Tech CEO Brendan Eich and donor privacy

Brendan Eich invented Javascript.

That’s a pretty big deal. Javascript is the programming language that helped make the internet how it is today—user-friendly and interactive.

Eich was also the co-founder of the big-tech company Mozilla. In 2014, he was announced as the next CEO of the company. But not long after that announcement, he was forced out of the position because of a private donation he made over five years earlier.

That’s also a big deal.

Eich’s story may be the canary in the coal mine for any American who has donated to a non-profit if the Supreme Court rules against donor privacy in Thomas More Law Center's case this term.

‘Canceled’ for a Donation

In 2008, the State of California had a ballot initiative called Proposition 8. The initiative gave Californians the opportunity to vote for an amendment to the state constitution protecting the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.

“Prop 8,” as it became known, passed. But five years later in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruling to stand, invalidating Prop 8 and allowing marriage to be redefined in California.

What does any of this have to do with Brendan Eich?

Well, in 2008, Eich gave $1,000 in support of Prop 8.

And this information became available to the public shortly after he was named CEO of Mozilla in 2014, and there was a huge backlash. So much for donor privacy.

After Eich’s new position was announced, this donation circulated in the news. Angry users and even employees derided the company. Some high-ranking employees of Mozilla wrote long statements and blogs weighing in on the issue.

“It frustrates me when people use their economic power to further enshrine and institutionalize discrimination” wrote Christie Koehler, head of Education. “A CEO is publicly seen as one of the most visible faces of an organization,” wrote Development leader John Schneider. “Unfortunately, right now Brendan’s public image…is one showing that he donated money to deny equal rights to the LGBT community during Prop 8 in California.”

Three board members resigned.

Most alarmingly, the dating website OKCupid even created a pop-up for those using Mozilla browsers calling him “an opponent of equal rights.”

After all of this, Eich decided to step down from the position of CEO. In other words, Eich was a victim of “cancel culture” before we had a name for it.

Why Donor Privacy Matters

Today, it seems there are daily examples of people facing public backlash or being forced out of their positions because of statements or political stances they made in the past.

Just last month, the newly-appointed editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue—a fashion magazine for girls— was forced to step down after “insensitive” tweets she wrote as a teenager were discovered.

This is a huge problem for anyone who values a free and open society.

People should be free to speak about the causes they care about. More than that, they should be free to give to causes they care about without the fear that it will destroy their careers.

That’s what happened to Brendan Eich. And it could happen to many others, too.

Later this month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Thomas More Law Center’s case.

In 2012, the California Attorney General’s office began to harass the Michigan-based, non-profit organization Thomas More Law Center. It demanded that the Law Center hand over the names and addresses of its major donors to fundraise in the state.

Thomas More Law Center refused for two good reasons.

First, its supporters, clients, and employees have faced intimidation, death threats, hate mail, and boycotts from ideological opponents. There is no knowing what would happen to the center’s donors if the California AG had their names. And they have reason to fear such threats because, secondly, the California’s AG’s office has a political bent and long history of carelessly leaking sensitive information on the internet.

Hopefully, the Supreme Court rules in favor of Thomas More Law Center and donor privacy. California’s blanket demand for the names and addresses of charity supporters is dangerous, unnecessary, and uncalled-for.

Just look at what happened Brendan Eich.

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Maureen Collins
Maureen Collins
Web Editor & SEO Manager
Maureen Collins serves as the Web Editor and SEO Manager at Alliance Defending Freedom.