The Manhattan Declaration App Shouldn’t Be Rejected February 15, 2011

The Manhattan Declaration App Shouldn’t Be Rejected

I know I’m late to the party here. There’s been plenty written already about how Apple rejected an iPhone/iPad app called The Manhattan Declaration — the declaration calls on conservative Christians to be strongly anti-choice, against equal rights & marriage for gay people, and supportive of things like “conscience clauses” so that Christian pharmacists can deny you birth control as they please.

The app in question:

… enabled users to sign the declaration, visit the website, and take a survey relating to the declaration..

The survey consisted of four questions — including “Do you believe in protecting life from the moment of conception? Y or N” and “Do you support same-sex relationships? Y or N” — and 25 points were awarded for each “correct” answer.

A pro-abortion or pro-gay marriage response was considered incorrect.

Frankly, it sounds (and looks) like a really boring application. Even if a similar app was put out which expressed my own views, I wouldn’t waste my time downloading it.

However, after petitioners called it out for being anti-gay and anti-woman, Apple removed the app from their store saying “it violates our developer guidelines by being offensive to large groups of people.”

At this moment, the app is still unavailable.

I know the Apple store accepts and rejects apps as they see fit and there’s a lot of discussion over what the guidelines are (or should be). It’s not clear cut, in any case.

But should an app be pulled because some people find it offensive?

Even with the survey removed, this is just a statement of conservative Christian beliefs. There are plenty of other apps available that are favorable to Christians — the number of Bible apps alone is staggering — so why is this one singled out?

Reader Jenea reluctantly raises this point in an email:

I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to condemn the actions of organizations I support, such as Change.org and GLAAD, and stand in solidarity and support for something I abhor, namely the Manhattan Declaration.

The long and short of it is that these organizations pushed for censorship, and got it. There is something especially disturbing about allowing a corporation to be the arbiter of what is or is not acceptable speech.

On Friendly Atheist you talk often about how important it is to support free speech, even if we don’t like it, and you call out Christian groups for not standing up for atheists who want to exercise their right to free speech.

Is this a good opportunity for atheists to stand up for the rights of Christians to exercise their rights?

Absolutely.

I don’t see any reason for the app to be rejected. Apple should reinstate it.

Let’s mock the declaration all we want. Let’s all give it a 1-star rating. Let’s use it as evidence that Christianity is an inherently bigoted faith — if followed the way the Declaration commands — and make other Christians have to defend shit like this.

Or let’s not download it.

But let’s not support the censorship of their beliefs, even if they are completely abhorrent.


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  • I agree.

    When you live in a society with free speech then someone is always bound to be offended by things. Apple shouldn’t remove the app they should just make a joke out of it. The entire concept of this app is moronic in my opinion. And it only goes to show that Christianity as a faith system is stuck in the Dark Ages.

  • Claudia

    Apple isn’t anti-Christian, it’s vehemently anti-controversy. The whole app environment is a PG, Disney affair and anything that has even the slightest hint of “offence” is promptly removed. I can’t wait for someone to make a decent competitive machine or even better, get someone to rule that Apple can’t block installation of any program it chooses.

    Of course the Manhattan Declaration (which sounds like something about nuclear weapons to me, but whatever) should be allowed. Hell, if Fred Phelps had an app, he should be allowed to spew it out into the internets as well. We should not all be required to live at the emotional maturity level of 4th graders because everyone is so afraid of causing “offense”.

    And I’d like to add Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, Tits.

  • Yes, this is censorship. But it’s censorship that Apple have every right to engage in. We’re not talking about some state-run, government organisation – we’re talking about a private company which runs a service that hosts other people’s software. If that company finds software to be against it’s own philosophy, then it is perfectly right and proper that they should refuse to host it. If this was a legally imposed censorship then I’d be kicking and screaming – but it isn’t, it’s Apple’s choice. Examine the converse scenario – If they are forced by the courts to host an app which obscures their own views, then that would be legally enforced censorship – and it would be reprehensible.

  • I agree with Custador. Apple can do whatever they want. My reaction is simply to continue being an Android user!

    “Let’s not support the censorship of their beliefs, even if they are completely abhorrent”, however, is a very American sentiment, and is at the top of my current home’s “pros” list vs. Canada where I grew up.

  • Brice Gilbert

    Obviously Hemant knows that this isn’t illegal censorship. The point is about how people and corporations act in real life and use reason to determine values. It seems unreasonable and unwise for Apple to be the way they are when it comes to content on the store.

  • Ben

    It seems unreasonable and unwise for Apple to be the way they are when it comes to content on the store.

    Why is it unreasonable? They’re in the business to make money for their shareholders, and they’ve decided the best way to do that it is to be, as Claudia says above, anti-controversy. Whether it works for them in the long run is debatable, but being the gatekeeper of the content in their store (like does any bricks-and-mortar store you’d walk into from the street) seems to be working for them so far.

    That doesn’t mean I think they should have banned it, but I respect their right to do so.

  • I call bullshit.

    This isn’t about censorship or free speech. Christians have every right to say whatever hateful, ignorant nonsense they want to say, whether it be rambling on a street corner, printing a pamphlet, or starting a blog. That’s the freedom of speech.

    However, freedom of speech isn’t the same as freedom from consequences. If you’re free to say something, someone else is free to respond to it as they see fit. In the case of a private company, that response may take the form of choosing not to sell the published form of your speech. Apple is no more under any legal or moral obligation to sell any given app than some total stranger is obliged to let you hang out in his living room preaching about atheism.

    And, for what it’s worth, I’d like to think I’d say the same thing if Apple were refusing to sell an atheist app. It’s not about the material itself, it’s about the company’s right to choose whether to be associated with it.

  • dartigen

    It’s bull. Apple has pulled other apps because they were offensive – a few hundred IIRC have been either pulled or rejected for offensive content. And it’s not necessarily religious – some have been pulled for racism, sexism, pornographic content…the list goes on (though the most common one is probably ‘too many bugs’).

    Apple is quite simply avoiding lawsuits and a loss of reputation with potential consumers by saying ‘sorry, we don’t like offending people, and your app offends people, take it elsewhere’.

    Honestly, Apple has every right to refuse an app on any grounds. IIRC, however, it does take a number of reports that an app is offensive (or complaints in the same vein) to get it pulled. One app, which had various facts and statistics about sex, attracted a few complaints, but it remained because Apple decided that there weren’t enough complaints to make it worth their while to pull it from the store. Same goes for the free condom app for the NYC area – unless they get several thousand complaints, Apple will likely leave it be.

    (If he really wants to get it published he could publish it for jailbroken equipment only…he won’t make money, but hey, it’s out there.)

  • JD

    It looks to me to be largely an app that exists as a promotional tool, to promote the site just by being listed in the store and nothing else. Apple could have legitimately declined it for being too simple of an app, it’s a survey, a petition and a link to the web site, all of which can be done just as well on as a web site rather than an app. I think Apple has a rule disallowing apps that are just fronts to a web site. There is also a rule about being too divisive politically. The article you linked is humorous, as if expanding marriage law destroys the institution of marriage.

  • ewan

    There’s a difference between censoring someone and refusing to give them a platform, and this is the latter.

    The iOS app store is not an environment that respects anyone’s freedom, but that’s its major selling point; the deal as an Apple customer is that you lose the ability to make your own choices in exchange for a promise that they will keep a range of bad stuff away. This is simply Apple following through on that promise to their customers.

  • tim

    Kind of late to the game on this one aren’t you?

    Apple is a private company and can reject/accept any app to the eco-system it controls. If lots of people start having a problem with that – they will buy another phone.

    Besides the Manhattan Declaration is available via the web. They even have a mobile optimized version of it – reachable via iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Android, etc.

  • Hemant, you should have embedded a Flash video with this post. That would have given us some more to talk about. 😉

    Although I agree that Apple has the right to censor the content that goes on the apple product-line, I think apple will start to lose out to competitors in the long run when the competitors don’t have all these restrictions in place.

  • RJ

    If fundies want an app that exposes their ignorance and bigotry by all means let them have it…and use it…and announce to the world what nasty, bigoted hypocrits they truely are.

  • bernerbits

    @Claudia

    I can’t wait for someone to make a decent competitive machine

    No love for Android?

  • Thegoodman

    This is hardly censorship. Since all apps are downloaded from the Apple store, I assume they consider each app as something they endorse. If Apple doesn’t like it, they have the right to not ‘sell’ it, even if its free.

    How is this different than Walmart refusing to sell Maxim/Playboy? Apple is not a government entity. What if they chose to remove an app that taught people how to be a child molester (similar to the book that Amazon stopped selling a while ago)? Would anyone care?

  • jebus

    I must admit to a little bit of Schadenfreude given that the “being offended” tables have turned so.

    Make no mistake, this IS censorship, but Apple has every right to do so as a business. Personally, I say that if Apple wants to insult their customers by not allowing so-called “offensive” content — our sensibilities are just so brittle! — they can be my guest. We can always take our business elsewhere — or jailbreak our iPhones.

  • Ryan

    Yeah, sorry Hemant, Apple is in the right here. As a private company they have every right to decide what they will and won’t sell.

  • Franco

    So far as I can see, unless you’re an Apple shareholder you don’t get a vote in how they run their business.

  • There’s really no substantive difference between this and a book publisher refusing to accept a script for publishing.
    One might question whether or not Apple has been consistent…

  • Synapse

    … hmmm.. not a problem on my Android 2.2 – I can load whatever crazyness I choose to.

    …Seems like you need to upgrade from the IOS, since it is a bit too 1984.

  • @Ryan,

    “As a private company they have every right to decide what they will and won’t sell.”

    True, but the purchasing public also has a right to point out inconsistencies in a corporation’s treatment of certain ideas or concepts. IF…IF Apple has been employing a double standard -as Zazzle.com did with several of my products- then concerned consumers would not be out of line to point this out.
    There’s legally right and then there’s “right”.

  • Drew M.

    Yeah, I agree with most everyone here. Apple is doing what they think is best for their company and that’s perfectly fine.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    I haven’t seen anyone argue that Apple shouldn’t have a legal right to do this. It is so annoying in discussions like this that so many people think that they’ve had the last word by making such insightful comments along the lines of “Apple is not a government entity, therefore this isn’t a First Amendment issue.” Well, no kidding! But we’re certainly within reason if we want to criticize their choices. I don’t like how the whole app store model works; I prefer people being able to develop and distribute software for different platforms as they see fit, and I don’t like how Apple completely controls the gate as to what they will allow on their devices. However, that is how they run their business, and of course it is legal, but I don’t have to like it or refrain from criticizing it. And I think it is ridiculous that they shy away from apps that might be controversial. I would much prefer that they simply say “our customers have freedom of choice” and allow people to develop and distribute what they wish. But they refuse to do that and they are cowardly in the face of any controversy.

    If you buy an iPhone, you’re buying into that, I guess, whether you realize it or not at the outset. I don’t have a smartphone, but if I do ever buy one, it will definitely be something that runs Android.

  • I think Apple has every right to refuse an app if they want to, but I agree that it would be better if they didn’t refuse it. (It just gives conservative Christians more examples they can use to falsely claim they are being persecuted.) It would be better if they accepted it and everyone criticized the app itself.

    This reminds me of an article by Susan Jacoby, Religious and anti-religious apps for dummies.

  • The Apple app platform is a closed system: meaning Apple has full control over what goes and what doesn’t. If this were a case of a website up and running that an ISP or web host blocked, it would be a different story and I’d be in support of the homophobes running their website.

    However, in this case, Apple has every right to block apps at their discretion. It’s their platform, not the open web.

  • I’m going to go with Karl Popper’s Paradox of Tolerance on this. If you so tolerate someone or some group that is intolerant of you, you may find yourself under their thumb, your rights stripped away. Do not expect them to be equally tolerant.

    Anywhere any group tries to strip or deny the rights of others, that we must not tolerate. We must stand up at every opportunity to oppose them. Apple should not, must not, help them. Would we be so understanding of a KKK ap?

  • Silent Service

    Interesting. I agree that whoever made the app should be allowed to make it, but I also agree that Apple has no obligation to host it, sell it, or distribute it. Let them make their own phone and distribute their own content if they don’t like Apple’s policy. Apple is under no obligation to provide them a platform.

    All that said, I do not and will not own an iPhone. I don’t want Apple telling me what programs I can have on my phone.

  • Thegoodman

    @Lost Left

    I thought my opinion was implied in my statement that it is not a government entity.

    My OPINION is that they can sell or not sell any product of their choosing. I support their choice to withdraw an app that is controversial to some and the gospel to others. I am also disinterested in their inconsistencies in this category. It is a marking strategy they have deemed necessary and it is difficult to argue with their success. Any other mentioned app that maybe ‘should’ be withdrawn certainly will be if enough papers put it in their headlines.

    @Silent Apple isn’t telling you what apps you can have on your phone. It doesn’t remove apps that have been downloaded. It just chooses to stop distributing apps that don’t align with its policies.

  • AtheistAtBirth

    Bunk. The app was killed because Apple would have to justify allowing the Atheist Declaration in fairness to free speech. :[

  • Anonymous

    Are the creators of the Manhattan App happy about the current state of Uganda? I assume that’s what they’d like to see in the US.

    BBC4 doc
    http://www.atheistmedia.com/2011/02/worlds-worst-place-to-be-gay.html

  • Steve

    Apple has been refusing plenty of gay-related apps. Even ones that aren’t actually pornographic, but were deemed to be so.

  • Min

    This is why closed software ecosystems are bad. Apple is well within their legal right to ban applications from their store for any reason they choose, and I’d argue that they’re within their moral right, too — why should they be obligated to use their resources to distribute something they disagree with?

    The problem here is that if you want to create, distribute, or run anything on an iPhone or iPad, you have to go through Apple to do so (unless you’re willing to do some work to hack the device and accept that Apple or your carrier could turn it into a brick at any moment). On the basis of technical merits, I think Apple makes great hardware (I’ve used their laptops for a long time), but I won’t buy a computing platform that I can’t control.

  • Apple can do what it choose to do, as it creates and owns the system. However, I would prefer to see as little censorship as possible. The pro-gay and pro-choice should call the makers of the Manhattan Declaration out for being hate-filled homophobes, but that is where it should stop. That is the beauty of the freedom of speech. I have the right to offend anyone, and no one has the right not to be offended. A conservative christian can say that all gays are going to hell, and I can say that that conservative Christian’s god is non-existent.

    @Thegoodman

    While there isn’t evidence that Apple has removed apps from a individual’s phone, they have the capability to do so.

  • Don

    Min beat me to it: this is why a closed platform is bad. If the computer isn’t running software of my choosing, if I can’t create my own software to run on it, it really isn’t mine in any sense that matters. Ditto if I’m not allowed to open the case.

  • Dark Jaguar

    Two thoughts that have already been said:

    A company or individual should be free to accept or reject whatever it wants on it’s own servers. If I am free to ban someone for speech I consider disruptive on a forum I run, Apple is free to ban an “app” from their store for their own reasons. That is, so long as it doesn’t violate existing non-discrimination laws of course, which this doesn’t. I shouldn’t be forced to continue to allow someone who does nothing but spout hateful racist and sexist speech on any forum or “blog” I may have, and Apple shouldn’t be forced to host their apps on their store.

    THAT SAID, I am also for consumer’s rights. While Apple is free to ban it from their STORE, “hacking” their iDevices to put “homebrew” (custom applications outside the Apple market and approval process) is fair game. I’m of the opinion that once you buy a piece of hardware, you should be fully allowed to do whatever you like to it, “Millenium Copyright Act” be darned!

    That’s the happy compromise in this situation. If Apple allows people to install custom apps of their choosing without blocking that on the phone, then there can be no complaints about what is or isn’t available on their store. A single company’s store isn’t really a public “platform” anyway. Heck, Walmart is another nation-wide store and they get to pick and choose what they’ll sell there.

  • Spencer

    Yes, this is censorship. But it’s censorship that Apple have every right to engage in. We’re not talking about some state-run, government organisation – we’re talking about a private company which runs a service that hosts other people’s software. If that company finds software to be against it’s own philosophy, then it is perfectly right and proper that they should refuse to host it. If this was a legally imposed censorship then I’d be kicking and screaming – but it isn’t, it’s Apple’s choice. Examine the converse scenario – If they are forced by the courts to host an app which obscures their own views, then that would be legally enforced censorship – and it would be reprehensible.

    This discussion isn’t on whether Apple has the right to censor apps they don’t like; it’s on whether they should.

  • Should? Sorry, but that’s not your judgement to make!

  • The Other Tom

    Hemant, speaking as a gay atheist, as a not entirely satisfied Apple customer, and as an Apple stockholder, I think you’re 100% wrong here. Apple is choosy about what they allow on their app store in a variety of ways: the app must meet certain technical requirements, must do what it claims to, can’t be too duplicative of existing apps, etc… and one of the many requirements is that it not be offensive. Apple is not a public forum. They get to choose who they do business with, and they choose not to do business with these bigots.

    Apple is, in effect, endorsing every app they sell on their app store as being suitable for sale and meeting their standards. They’ve decided this app doesn’t qualify for that endorsement. Who are you to tell them they have to do otherwise?

    Now, you could argue that Apple should allow people to install any app on their own iphone that they want to, and I’d agree. But that’s a different argument, not requiring that Apple should have to sell apps that they don’t approve of.

  • martha

    If they are going to get rid of offensive applications (as is their intent) then they need to get rid of the ugly meter. http://www.technologyihub.com/iphone-app-rates-users-ugliness/

    Great for bullies in junior high and high school. Far worse consequences that the boring Manhattan Declaration.

  • Sean Santos

    This is something that cuts multiple ways. Apple also has the legal right to have different standards for what they consider “offensive” or “porn” for straight vs. gay depictions (as does Amazon, which has come under fire for the same thing). Apple also has the right to ban atheist apps as excessively controversial or “hate”-filled (to my knowledge they haven’t, but it is perfectly doable).

    I think the real problem is institutional; iPhone is a de facto standard (the first phone of its kind to really take off), and (un-jail-broken) iPhones can only download apps from the Apple store. Because of this, Apple’s determination to endorse or reject particular apps has a much stronger censoring effect than would be the case if they hadn’t set up a pseudo-monopoly within their well-respected brand name. As this is not a real monopoly nor governmental censorship, there’s no real legal recourse.

    The obvious thing to do, in this case, is to buy a similar phone, other than the iPhone (or jailbreak your iPhone, if you can live with a voided warranty). And, if you want, contact Apple and tell them why you’re doing it. This has two main effects: 1) promoting more free alternatives to the app store, and 2) putting economic pressure on Apple to do less strong policing of its app store.

    Apple is an organization made up of a (somewhat) diverse group of human beings, but as it is a corporation, the only pressure it is really compelled to respond to is the economic pressure imposed.

    Of course, if you don’t care enough about this issue to do one of the above, then you may as well forget about it and get on with your life.

    P.S.: One thing that annoys me about this is that, if there had been an app designed to organize people in favor of making interracial marriage illegal, I don’t think that there would be an uproar about “censorship” at all. The only reason that the Manhattan Declaration is getting so much support is that it represents a form of bigotry that is still socially acceptable.

    My opposition to the app store predates this incident, and is because I think that, basically, people should be able to get racist materials or pornography or whatever the hell they want on their phones (as long as it’s legal). But I don’t have a soft spot in my heart for bigotry just because it’s a particular kind of bigotry which is still very much alive and well in the actions of religious organizations; the Manhattan Declaration disgusts me, not least because its supporters include some of the most hateful Christians of whom I am aware.

  • Gotta go with the, “Apples choice” line of thinking on this one. Could you not have written a similar post arguing that Apple should have the right to chose what apps they allow in their store? Technology muddies the waters of ethics more than they already are. I say this because, it would also be just as easy to bring up the argument that once someone has purchased an Iphone they should be able to get whatever kind of apps they want, it’s their machine. (I’m not an iphone user, can you get apps that aren’t Apple sponsored/from the apple store?)

  • jenea

    For me the question is not so much about what Apple has done in this situation. I am more concerned about the behavior of the groups I usually support calling for censorship. GLAAD finds this app offensive, and with reason. What do they do with their indignation? Design and market an app with balanced, secular, science-based opinions instead?

    No, they asked Apple to remove the app.

    What do we think is the appropriate response from a Christian who hates the atheist billboard that went up downtown? To buy a billboard with contrary speech, or to use their pressure to ask the company to take the billboard down?

    My disappointment is not with Apple (well, maybe a little for being inconsistent), but with organizations I usually support calling for censorship.

    (I did write to both GLAAD and Change.org about this but got no meaningful response.)

  • Min

    iPhone is a de facto standard (the first phone of its kind to really take off)

    I’d have to disagree with that. Smartphones have been around long before the iPhone appeared, although it was right around the time the iPhone appeared that they became affordable to the average consumer. Even now, though, estimates only put the iPhone section of the smartphone market at around 28%: http://internet2go.net/news/data-and-forecasts/nielsen-android-momentum-continues

    There are many different options out there, and the only excuse for being restricted by the official Apple store is that you want to be.

  • Miko

    The real problem is that Apple is in a position to censor apps. If apps were available on a free market, users would be able to choose to download them and use them on devices they own without seeking permission from Apple.

    As a private company, Apple certainly has the right to attempt to impose censorship on their users. But users have a complementary right to hack their devices to circumvent such restrictions. The fact that Apple can use the force of law to prevent users from invoking their rights is the true source of the problem. (And the solution, as is very often the case, is to get rid of the force of law.)

  • Secular Stu

    It is an App Store and they can choose whatever products to put in their own store.

    Not only is it not discrimination, but there is nothing stopping the Manhattan Declaration people from creating a web app version of the site.

  • Amelia

    This really does seem to be an app that duplicates a very simple website. While Apple has the right to restrict what apps its phone users download (which I find somewhat dubious – I wish there were an open market), I don’t think that this is where atheists and LGBT activists should focus their energy. If users were complaining of their own accord (and I doubt this – most people don’t care about apps they don’t use), then sure, Apple should remove the app according to its own policies. But it’s silly to create email campaigns, etc., when they are literally trying to make it legal to kill abortion providers in South Dakota. For me, it comes off as not wanting the other guy to get his (ridiculous) argument in. And that’s not fair play.

  • Ethan

    Another dissenting opinion here. Free speech means it is legal to express a certain opinion. It doesn’t mean that opinion should be applauded. When dr Laura Schlessinger used the n-word 11 times on her radio show, she got fired. Afterwards she complained that it was an attack on her free speech. It wasn’t – it is legal for her to say things as vile as she wants, but a company doesn’t have to give her a platform. It was legal to write the app for the manhatten declaration, just as it was legal to compile it. Apple has every right to decide what type of content they want in their store, just as this blog has the right not to post and sign on to the manhattan declaration. It’s a business decision – putting the app in their store while they reject apps for countless reasons everyday will make their company look bad. It’s not like we’re going to cry foul if the Family Research Council doesn’t put the “Reason’s Greetings” holiday sign up next to their christmas tree. Their organization, their rules. Simple.

  • vexorian

    The bull in here is that Apple is running this excessively centric and draconian thing they call the App Store. And they are the one and only allowed Gate Keeper for anyone’s iphone. As such they get to control the market but the drawback is that this makes them vulnerable to any opinion regarding any decision to allow or to reject an app. If they reject this app, they get flak from Christians wanting Free Speech, if they accept the app, they would get equally annoying flak.

    All would be easier if apple would just allow people to decide what app is installed on the devices they own.

  • Kevin

    Many here are missing Hemant’s point. He is NOT saying that it should be illegal for Apple to censor or discriminate, rather he is saying that we should devalue Apple if we value freedom of expression. i.e. All other things being equal, don’t buy Apple products.

    Please stop assuming that when someone says “X should do Y” they mean there should be a law to that effect. That is the root of so many of our problems.