Many of you may be aware of the recent story regarding the Apple App Store and the Manhattan Declaration. If you are not aware of the details, the basic summary is that Apple, after first approving it, banned an “app” from its “app store” that promoted a document called the Manhattan Declaration. This document, among other things, supports a traditional view of marriage and the sanctity of life. The goal of the app was to get its users to support the declaration by signing it online. To date, over 480,000 people have signed the document. The app was pulled after a petition generated by change.org was sent to Apple, which now has over 7700 signatures.
It wasn’t that long ago that many Christians were applauding Steve Jobs and Apple for their stance against pornography. We liked it when they played moral judge. So what happened? Well, it turns out that Apple’s policies for the App Store not only prohibit pornography, but also prohibit anything that Apple considers “defamatory, offensive, or mean-spirited”. A former student of mine, who currently works at Apple, provided me with some insight:
I think enough people raised a stink about the specific reference to LGBT people as sexually immoral that they played it up as being defamatory and too targeted against one cultural group (this is the key — see below: 19.1). I think that the moderators try to weed out controversy so as to mellow out the store, but probably only analyze apps where enough complaints are received. The text in question was most likely a hard-coded part of the app itself rather than dynamic content. I think this is a one-off situation on a controversial topic within the app store, and am entirely confident that the “what if” scenarios on [Phil Vischer's] blog would never happen. It will be interesting to see what happens next.
This student went on to point out some of the specific policies that could apply to this app:
19.1: “Apps containing references or commentary about a religious, cultural or ethnic group that are defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited or likely to expose the targeted group to harm or violence will be rejected.”19.2: “Apps may contain or quote religious text provided the quotes or translations are accurate and not misleading. Commentary should be educational or informative rather than inflammatory.”
If you read the Manhattan Declaration, it specifically calls out homosexuality and same-sex marriage as “immoral”. In Apple’s interpretation, this specifically violate guideline 19.1, in that it makes a reference to a cultural group that is offensive. Apple went public with their opposition to Prop. 8 in California and has a 100% rating from the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, so this reaction is not surprising at all.
The real question is: now what? Boycott Apple? Ignore it because we like their products? Here are some thoughts I am considering:
- Apple has every right to determine what is sold in their store. This is not censorship; they are a private company. It is also our right to choose not to buy their products or use their services.
- The App Store is one of the primary ways that the Bible itself is being distributed. As my former student commented to me, ”Keep in mind that one of the most popular apps is the free (YouVersion) Bible, which allows you to download ‘contribs’ like commentaries which clearly offend some people yet are very informative and even academic.”
- Any Christian organization looking to develop an “app” for the iOS market should be aware of the policies that Apple has in place. Apple clearly does not want apps that are controversial in their store.
- Apple’s banning of this app has created quite a bit of publicity for the Manhattan Declaration. How many of you had heard of it before you read this post?
So, to answer the original question: no, I don’t think Apple hates Christians. They are doing what they think is right, but we know where that leads. For me, I am going to take a wait-and-see attitude on this. Apple has earned quite a bit of goodwill with me and I want to see how this plays out. I will definitely be watching them more closely as new apps (and app stores) roll out.
What is your reaction to this story? Leave a comment to give me your thoughts. You can keep up with the latest developments on the Manhattan Declaration’s blog.