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Friday, January 7, 2011

A Chilling Affront to Free Speech

As I blogged last year, I am a signer of the Manhattan Declaration, which champions the sanctity of life from conception, the sanctity of one-man/one-woman marriage, and freedom of religious expression in the public square.  The third of these values is under great threat right now from, startlingly, Apple, Inc.

The Manhattan Declaration organization had an app on Apple's iPhone and iPad that provided an opportunity to sign the declaration, read and watch more from the declaration's authors, and link up with other signers.  During the Thanksgiving holiday period, Apple quietly removed the app after online commentary and a petition at denounced it as "anti-LGBT, anti-women."  The Declaration organization addressed some of critics concerns by resubmitting the app with nothing on it but the Declaration itself and the option to sign it.  On December 22 Apple rejected the app again (notice their penchant for using holidays?), this time directly addressing its creators with a letter that states:
[Apps that contain] 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.  We have evaluated the content of this application and consider its contents to be objectionable and potentially harmful to others.
After puzzling about which "religious, cultural or ethnic group" Apple is concerned about in this instance, I realized that Apple had labeled this expression of Christian belief . . . well, you can see for yourself what they called it.  This is the Declaration that pronounces its respect for gays "as human beings possessing profound, inherent, and equal dignity" with straights despite maintaining that homosexual practice is immoral and the codification of it in marriage incorrect.  Simply by taking a contrary moral position, regardless of the tenor in which it takes it, the Manhattan Declaration is considered to be mean-spirited and harmful.

At one level, this is not terribly surprising.  Apple is right that the Manhattan Declaration is offensive, because Christian teaching is inherently offensive to everyone (including, sometimes, Christians); Jesus and the apostles said so themselves.  This episode is also yet another example of an achingly common phenomenon that each of us perpetrates and experiences in all kinds of relationships, especially in our families: the more emotionally reactive we are because our self seems to be threatened by someone else, the more difficult it is for us to listen accurately and judge rationally.  This is how the Manhattan Declaration, written in the most civil and respectful tone, could be written off by many immediately as hate speech.  It also suggests how many who are in favor of the Manhattan Declaration are liable to react to Apple.

So I'm not surprised that Apple doesn't agree with the principles of the Manhattan Declaration.  I am surprised, however, that Apple doesn't agree with the principle of free speech.  Apple does not have a legal obligation to protect free speech like the government does, but one might expect such a progressive organization as Apple to recognize a moral obligation to do so.  And I believe that this principle is something that all Americans ought to rally around regardless of our positions on same-sex marriage and abortion.  This is the topic that I wrote about to Apple CEO Steve Jobs in the e-mail whose text is posted below.  (Incidentally, I'm also surprised that by their response to the Manhattan Declaration Apple is that unafraid of offending so many actual and potential customers.)

I should clarify that though I am in complete agreement with the Manhattan Declaration, the document, I have not always been in complete agreement with the Manhattan Declaration, the organization.  At times its founders have treated certain issues or situations as morally clear-cut and demanding of immediate action, and I have not been so sure, including the first time Apple removed this app.  And despite the founders' nonpartisan talk, their Facebook page has taken on a pronounced partisan tone at times.  But because this staunch censorship by Apple is indefensible to me, I urge readers to sign the Manhattan Declaration and contribute to the organization.  Even if these are things that you cannot do because you disagree with the Declaration, please join me nevertheless in sending an e-mail to Steve Jobs asking Apple to reinstate the Manhattan Declaration app in the name of freedom of speech.

(Text of my e-mail to Steve Jobs.)

Dear Mr. Jobs:

I am writing to ask you to reinstate the iPhone/iPad app submitted by the Manhattan Declaration.

Mr. Jobs, I believe that you sincerely desire to do the right thing.  I am inclined to believe that you have denied both past and present versions of the Manhattan Declaration app not because you believed it bad for your business's bottom line but because of your conscience.  There is no other explanation for why your company would call opposition to same-sex marriage, a view held by 48% of the American people, "defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited," "objectionable and potentially harmful to others" in your Dec. 22 letter to the authors of the Manhattan Declaration.  The only reason one might condemn the opinion of half your potential domestic customers so forcefully is out of fidelity to a moral principle that transcends Apple's profit.  I sincerely commend you for being that principled, even though it is not a principle that I share with you.  I wish that more business leaders acted out of convictions about right and wrong.

But there is another moral principle that has been cherished by Americans for generations that is under even greater threat in this case: the right to free speech.  From our founding and before, we as a people have believed strongly that when citizens are empowered to articulate ideas passionately and can be heard and evaluated by their fellow citizens, the entire nation benefits.  We have also maintained that we have nothing to fear from such discourse, because it is through reasoning in the public square that wisdom is elevated and folly defeated, not by censorship or manipulation by the powers-that-be.

As the leader of a powerful information technology company with significant influence in 21st-century telecommunications, you have a greater responsibility than most to foster the free speech that Americans prize.  But this sacred value is placed at great risk by Apple's current stance.  If the position of those of us who have signed the Manhattan Declaration is wrong, the public square is where we ought to be defeated.  We ought not be defeated by a cadre of activists soliciting a business leader in private that fears it cannot refute us in public.

Apple's technological and design brilliance has earned it the passionate loyalty of its customers.  I'm one of them—a loyal and zealous Apple user nearly my entire adult life.  For the first time, Apple has done something to endanger my repeat business seriously.  The next time I buy a computer, I could buy from you and support a company that discriminates against my religion and limits my speech, or I could buy a PC and pad Bill Gates' foundation that corrects global health disasters.  Please don't require me to make that choice.

Rev. Cory Hartman


  1. Well said, Cory. I hope Jobs actually gets to read it and responds appropriately. I personally don't want to have to reconsider my love of my Mac.

  2. Pastor Cory,

    I'm a blogger for the Manhattan Declaration and want to thank you for posting this. It's an important effort (getting the app back) and we certainly appreciate your support.

    God Bless you!

  3. Cory,

    This is well stated. I'm feeling kind of bad that I have a Mac right now. I guess it is Apple's right to express what they want to express, and this action on their part is not the same as if it had come from the US government (which it might sooner than we'd guess).

    The Manhattan Declaration's position on marriage bothers me on a certain level. The Bible does not teach that marriage is a one man/one woman deal. There is far more polygamy than monogamy in the Bible, and it is not condemned. In Deuteronomy 17, the Law says that a king should not have "many wives," but it never limited him to just one. Abraham had two wives; Jacob (Israel himself) had four. David had a bunch, and Solomon had thousands (well, that was not good, but it was accepted). In the New Testament, men in leadership are to have "but one wife," but the implication there would seem that many men had more than one wife, and while they were not then supposed to take on leadership positions, they were not in any way disciplined or shut out of the fellowship for having excess wives (I figure they just didn't have time to lead at church because of all the leading-at-home that is required when you have multiple wives).

    Now, I am not in any way advocating polygamy. I just think we are on very thin ice, philosophically, when we claim the Bible as our source of truth, yet warp what it says to suit our agenda. If that is what we are going to do, then we aren't any better than any other ungodly group. If we want people to take us seriously, we need to handle Scripture seriously, and claiming that the Bible teaches "one man/one woman" is simply not accurate. The Bible does clearly teach that homosexuality is a sin, but how can we expect anyone to believe us about that if we lump it in with something where we are being (at best) sloppy or, (at worst) insidiously misleading about what the Bible actually says?

    That is just a bee I have in my bonnet. It's NOT that I want any more wives than me in this house! I just feel very insecure when people I probably ought to be allied with are distorters of truth. :)