Apple Sparks Ethics War: Removes “Manhattan Declaration” from App Store

by Matt Klassen on November 30, 2010

If the waters of the Apple App Store developer agreement weren’t muddy before, with the recent acceptance and subsequent removal of a controversial conservative Christian app from the Store things are now positively opaque.

While Apple is no stranger to controversy, especially around its confusing acceptance/rejection rules for mobile applications, this past weekend Apple found itself in the centre of some truly torrid ethical waters when it allowed a mobile app into its App Store that promoted conservative Christian ethical values, and thus was deemed by many in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community (LGBT) to be homophobic, promoting anti-gay sentiment and fostering hate.

But with the conservative Christian community up in arms over the subsequent arbitrary removal of this application, is this a case of fostering homophobia, a case of trampling on free speech, or simply a case of pandering to whatever special interest group complains the loudest?

The mobile application in question, titled “The Manhattan Declaration,” was the brainchild of a 2009 religious coalition consisting of Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical Christian leaders across the nation that banded together to generate a unified stance on issues like abortion, marriage, and religious liberty.

It was designed as a mobile “call to conscience” for the American Christian community, and it works by simply asking the user a number of multiple choice questions about controversy ethical issues of our time. Further, it also allows users, of course, to sign the Manhattan Declaration and become one of the hundreds of thousands of Christians across the country taking a stand against what they see as moral degeneracy.

When the mobile app was allowed into Apple’s App Store over the weekend it sparked outrage from many in the LGBT community and beyond. The complaint was simple: the Manhattan Declaration app promoted hatred and divisiveness by polarizing people’s stand on homosexuality. 

Further, it acceptance into the App Store immediately had the LGBT specific media crying double standard. “Apple has a history of rejecting apps that are gay-related,” a staff person at the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian News wrote, “yet it is the LGBT community that faithfully buys its products.” As if, perhaps, no conservative Christians own iPhones.

While I am no fan of hate mongering, homophobia, or divisive and obtuse viewpoints, the truth of the matter is that this story need not be as controversial as both sides are making it out to be.

On the one hand, Apple has pandered to the conservative Christian community innumerable times, removing inappropriate applications under pressure from religious groups. So with the group behind the Manhattan Declaration demanding an explanation for the trampling of their right to free speech let me be the one to give it to them: Apple isn’t taking a stand on these complex ethical issues; in fact, the reality is far from it. Apple simply wants to avoid issues like this as part of their own white washed existential outlook. So welcome to the App Store complaint line. We’ll process your complaint in the order it was received. There are one million people currently ahead of you.

On the other hand, I truly believe—ignorantly perhaps—that the LGBT community is making a mountain out of a mole hill with this issue. The Manhattan Declaration app, for its part, is relatively innocuous, offering a simple questionnaire and never, as far as I can tell, actively promoting hate for people living alternative lifestyles. Will the people that download the app probably not approve of the LGBT lifestyle? Most definitely, but who ever said we all need to agree with each other on everything?

In fact, I would be surprised to hear of Apple, with its “history of rejecting apps that are gay-related,” ever rejecting a pro-gay application that offered users a simple questionnaire followed by the option of signing up to support a LGBT specific cause.

So what do you think? Does Apple’s removal of the Manhattan Declaration trample the fundamental right of free speech? Is the LGBT community overreacting to the Religious Right being, well, the Religious Right? For Apple’s part, I’m sure they’re asking, “can’t we all just get along…and buy more Apple products?”

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jordan Richardson December 1, 2010 at 3:26 am

“Does Apple’s removal of the Manhattan Declaration trample the fundamental right of free speech?”

No. This has nothing to do with freedom of speech. Apple is a private company and can hold on to or reject whatever apps it wants.

“Is the LGBT community overreacting to the Religious Right being, well, the Religious Right?”

Absolutely not. This reprehensible group of unintelligent thugs needs to be “overreacted” to at every turn to expose their outdated and wicked behaviour. With the LGBT community in the United States still struggling for equal rights under the law, they have every reason and every right to take something like this seriously.

techmom December 2, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Apple culture. Apple is a brand, which means dedicated mac and I product users are part of a community. My personal definition of this is that we are hip, forward thinking individuals on the cutting edge not only of technology, but also social and cultural trends. so we applaud actions like Apple resigning from the Chamber of Commerce and not supporting antiquated ideas that do indeed offend lots of us. and there are lots of us. Apple is no longer a niche company, and people who look down on others because they are different are.

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