06 April 2014

Two cases

There are two interesting corporate issues currently under discussion.

First is the Hobby Lobby case, in which the owners of a corporation hold religious views that prevent them from supporting parts of what are required under Obamacare:  abortion and contraceptives.

The other is at Mozilla and the leaving of Brendan Eich due to pressure for his political donation to Proposition 8, which would define marriage as between a man and a woman.

In both cases the corporation refers to standards: The Holy Bible in the case of Hobby Lobby, and a standard of conduct at Mozilla.

I would say, up front that corporations, when held by private individuals or families, or even those held by stockholders numbering in the millions, are free to have a corporate code of standards, morals and ethics for their company.  These are voluntary associations and represent a freedom of association amongst the people: no one forces an individual to work for a company.  I would say that it would help employees, greatly, if the actual codes are published with specificity, not with generic terminology referring to 'community' or some such, but to the details of what the corporation will actually hold you to.  That can include things for the corporation, itself, that it will not do as a corporation so as to uphold the standards set down for the company by those who own it.  I don't care if it is a sole proprietorship or a huge corporation: majority rights to set standards would function scale-free.

In the case of Hobby Lobby, they made it perfectly clear that the company would be more than willing to purchase health insurance that did not contain those items that they morally cannot support.  Supporting those elements are an anathema to them and they would prefer to close the company or not provide health insurance due to it.  Thus as this involves the federal government, it is a freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of conscience from religion that is being cited, and all of those are specifically protected in the 1st Amendment.

With Mozilla there is a case of punishing Brendan Eich for his 2008 contribution to Proposition 8 in CA, where his views were no different than Barack Obama's, Hillary Clinton's or a large number of other Democratic politicians.  Eich's speech is public speech, as much as a monetary contribution is 'speech', and there are specific laws prohibiting the use of political speech to punish employees, at least at the State level in CA there are.  Thus there is an extended 1st Amendment protection to political speech.

In both cases the founders of the company have set standards that the company is to live by, and in the case of Mozilla, Brendan Eich is a co-founder of Mozilla, so he should know what it was he constructed.  The job qualifications for Eich match up closely with what nearly any high tech company would want for a CEO, and he has never discriminated against gays, lesbians or tried to prevent couples from getting health insurance.  Thus he has held in his public job, to his commitment to the company.  When not on the job he is a private citizens who is entitled to public speech as a citizen, not as a member of a company.  Thus there is a distinction between public speech as member of a corporation, and public speech as a private citizen.

Hobby Lobby does not face the same sort of public speech problem, but is facing penalty of law for holding religious views as part of how they intend to run a company.  For the owners there is a requirement that in their lives that there be continuity between their publicly expressed morality in private and the company they formed to serve the public.  I have not heard of Hobby Lobby discriminating against its employees, and the employees perfectly understand the formulation of corporation they are joining when they request to be hired by it.  As a company, Hobby Lobby does not require its employees to profess their religious beliefs, nor does it perform any coercive acts to make them conform in their private lives to the standards made by the company.

Thus in Hobby Lobby they would be fine if people still did the things they did not pay for directly: there is no coercion of its employees to toe the company line in their life outside of work.  Its employees are free individuals away from work.

Mozilla feels free to intrude on the non-company life and speech of its members, at least it does for Brendan Eich, and use protected political speech as a reason to coerce individuals under its employment.  Its employees are not free individuals away from work and may have perfectly legal and constitutionally protected activities used against them in employment.

It is strange that the one corporation, not requiring people to adhere to company standards away from work is vilified, while the other, which punishes individuals for their private expression of protected speech, is lauded.

Often the same individuals deploring Hobby Lobby for maintaining its standards and lauding Mozilla for violating its work contract based on an individual's protected speech are the same people.

And yet the issues are just the same. 

Even worse is that the 'openness' is in the case of Hobby Lobby which does not discriminate based on religion or your private activities when they employ individuals.  The one claiming to have 'openness' is the one that discriminates against mere private opinion and represents a closing of mind to opinions or even a toleration of a separate life outside of work.